Prof. A.J.R. (Albert) Heck

Prof. A.J.R. (Albert) Heck (1964) is professor of chemistry and pharmaceutical sciences at Utrecht University. Heck develops techniques to map the structure and behaviour of proteins with the aid of mass spectrometry. By pushing the boundaries of technology further and further and by working together with leading scientists in various fields, he is making protein research increasingly advanced and accessible. Indeed, he has contributed to a better understanding of the role of proteins in illness and in health, and therefore also to better medicines and therapies.

Prof. A.J.R. (Albert) Heck (credits: Ivar Pel)Prof. A.J.R. (Albert) Heck (credits: Ivar Pel)

Unique double expertise

Heck was only 33 years old when he became professor at Utrecht University, and his field of study was biomolecular mass spectrometry and proteomics. At the time, proteomics (derived from proteins) was still in its infancy, but it was an extremely ambitious field. The intention was to systematically map all proteins in human cells and their biological functions by means of large-scale research. Heck is the driver of proteomics in the Netherlands and as academic director of the

Netherlands Proteomics Centre he has positioned our country at the highest international level. He also uses mass spectrometry to study increasingly large complexes of proteins, among other things how they work together in a cell, ‘like players in a football team’. People from twenty different nationalities work in Heck’s research group and deliver a constant flow of high-quality publications. As for Heck, he is considered worldwide to be an academic giant in his field: his double expertise in cutting-edge mass spectrometry technology, on the one hand, and his larger-scale protein research, on the other hand, are a unique combination.

Heck not only works with academic scientists but also with technology and pharmaceutical companies. That ensures that his techniques will be used in biomedical laboratories all over the world. For example, he developed a mass spectrometer with technology company Thermo Fisher Scientific that can analyse extremely large protein assemblies and use them, for example, to study therapeutic antibodies. Currently Heck and a pharmaceutical company are exploring possibilities for controlling the quality of medicines that have been made from living material. These could be used in immunotherapy, for example.

‘Unbridled energy’

Heck hopes to continue innovating and improving mass spectrometry in order to keep solving new and more complex biological puzzles. The evaluation committee did not doubt for a single moment that he will succeed in this endeavour, thanks to his unbridled energy, drive and outstanding international contacts.

The weekly magazine Elsevier already had the foresight to include Albert Heck on a list of high potentials in 1999. NWO awarded numerous of his proposals in open competitions. The facility for large-scale protein analysis Proteins@Work coordinated by Heck was rewarded by NWO in the National Roadmap for Large-Scale Research Facilities. In 2014, Heck was elected a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the European Molecular Biology Organization, an international organisation of researchers in the life sciences. He has received numerous distinctions from abroad, including (in 2015) the Frank. H. Field and Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Achievements in Mass Spectrometry from the American Chemical Society. It is highly exceptional for a researcher working outside the United States to receive this distinction.

Albert Heck was nominated for the Spinoza Prize by the chair of KNAW’s Physics Division and the chair of NWO’s Board of the Division Chemical Sciences (now the Domain Science).

 


Spinoza Laureates

Information on the Spinoza Laureates dates from the year the award was granted.