Out of the 25 entries for the Dutch Huibregtsen Prize, the jury has nominated six scientific research projects. UG professor Pauline Westerman and Cisca Wijmenga, Rector Magnificus of the UG as of 1 September 2019, are two of the six nominees for the Huibregtsen Prize 2019. On 7 October 2019, jury chairman Wim van Saarloos (KNAW president) will announce the winner of the Huibregtsen Prize during the Avond van Wetenschap & Maatschappij. This Evening of Science & Society is an annual event that takes place in the Ridderzaal building in The Hague.
Pauline Westerman is Professor of Philosophy of Law and a staff member of the Academy of Legislation. She is also a member of the KNAW (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences). Pauline is investigating the outsourcing of the law. Legislative issues are at the heart of our social structures. When do we recognize the validity and authority of rules? How do legislative processes relate to underlying values and standards? And do they work out the way that we expect or want them to?
In her book Outsourcing the Law. A philosophical perspective on Regulation (2018), Westerman exposes fascinating dynamics. Governments are more and more inclined towards ‘target regulation’. Their intention is good: they do this in the conviction that they will create the space and democratic influence that are part of an open society. They develop rules that only formulate objectives and set frameworks, whereby the adjacent lower levels are instructed to work out this framework using new rules and methods. This is an iterative ‘downward’ process. However, because each level positions itself as the client of the layer below it, there is also an upward movement in reporting: it exposes the condemned bureaucratization of our society.
Cisca Wijmenga is Professor of Human Genetics and a member of the KNAW. Wijmenga is a leading scientist who has contributed significantly to understanding the relationships between genetics and complex disorders such as coeliac disease, cerebral aneurysm and diabetes. Wijmenga investigates microorganisms in our intestines: fundamentally new knowledge about the causes and effects of type 2 diabetes leads the way to new diagnostics, prevention and treatment. Wijmenga’s discovery that formed the basis for her nomination for the Huibregtsen Prize is the link between the intestinal microbiome and type 2 diabetes. By means of a highly sophisticated genetic analysis, she was able to show that the cause lies in the intestinal flora – and not in the changes to intestinal flora under the influence of diabetes.
The determination of the relationship between intestinal bacteria and sugar metabolism indicates the direction in which interventions can be used in the future to prevent or treat diseases such as type 2 diabetes. This is in line with an earlier study by Wijmenga and her group (Science 2016), in which she showed that nutrition and drug use influence the composition of the microbiome. It is the first time that the nature of the link between the intestinal microbiome and a specific disease has been established. Until now, many studies have provided results on associations, but the causality – whether the disease determines the microbiome or vice versa – could not be established. The study used information from the long-term Northern Netherlands population study ‘LifeLines’. The 167,000 participants are followed over a period of 30 years by means of questionnaires and blood and urine samples, to make connections between age, lifestyle, heredity and disease.
The Huibregtsen Prize was established in 2005 by the board of the foundation Stichting De Avond van Wetenschap & Maatschappij, and was named after Wouter Huibregtsen. The Prize is awarded to a recent research project that is scientifically innovative and has clear social relevance. The professional jury is appointed by the board of the foundation. In 2019, the jury is composed as follows:
A minimum of four and a maximum of six projects are nominated each year, one of which is eventually awarded the Huibregtsen Prize. The prize is awarded during the Avond van Wetenschap & Maatschappij in the Ridderzaal building in The Hague, and includes the sculpture ‘De Denker’ by visual artist Wil van der Laan, a sum of € 25,000 earmarked for research, and a workshop offered by the Lorentz Center in Leiden.
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