nl en

Chemical Tools in Life Sciences


Admission Requirements

This course is an Honours Class and therefore in principle only available to students of the Honours College. There are a few places (generally 10-20%) available for second- and third-year regular students.

Students with an interest in biomedical, biomathematical, biotechnological, biophysical and/or chemical-biological aspects of fundamental and applied life sciences are cordially invited. Admission will be based on motivation.


Research at the forefront of life sciences is of high importance for our future. Living organisms are largely determined by chemistry and logically tools studying life are mainly chemical ones. Chemists can synthesize biomolecules and analyze biological processes at molecular or even atomic scale.

Within our Cell Observatory, fundamental and disease-related processes are imaged in organisms and cells by means of chemical probes. Our various chemistry approaches in the life sciences contribute to a fundamental understanding of living systems and the development of novel biomedicals and pharmaceuticals.

The Honours Class “Chemical tools in life sciences” will discuss, demonstrate and provide hands-on experiments illustrating the various aspects of the Leiden Institute of Chemistry (LIC) chemistry-driven research within the exciting field of life sciences. The students will encounter the importance of the chemistry-based research for unraveling fundamental life sciences processes up to the development of novel therapeutic strategies.

The Honours Class consists of a series of nine sessions exploring chemical tools in the life sciences, which contribute to a fundamental understanding of living systems and the development of novel biomedicals and pharmaceuticals. Students will encounter lectures and practical examples of modern chemistry-based tools at a general level.

Course Objectives

  1. Students can understand various chemical techniques in a life science setting.
  2. Students are able to present acquired knowlegde in a presentation.
  3. Students are able to relate their acquired knowlegde to scientific literature.
  4. Students are able to write a scientific essay.


Mondays March 15 – May 20

March 25, 16.30-18.15
April 1, 16.30-18.15
April 8, 16.30-18.15
April 15, 16.30- 18.15
April 29, 16.30-18.15
May 6, 16.30-18.15
May 13, 16.30-17.15
May 20, 16.30-18.15


Gorlaeus Laboratories, Einsteinweg 55, 2333 CC Leiden.

March 18, 16.30-18.15 Room DM119
March 25, 16.30-18.15 Room DM115
April 1, 16.30-18.15 Room DM119
April 8, 16.30-18.15 Room DM115
April 15, 16.30- 18.15 Room DM119
April 29, 16.30-18.15 Room DM119
May 6, 16.30-18.15 Room EM 109
May 13, 16.30-17.15 Room EM109
May 20, 16.30-18.15 Room DM115


Monday March 18, 16.30-18.15 – Prof.dr. Han de Winde

Monday March 25, 16.30-18.15

Monday, April 1, 16.30-18.15 – Prof dr Hans Aerts
Cellular and chemical studies in lysosomal storage diseases
Abnormalities in metabolism cause disease in man. The research group of prof dr Hans Aerts aims to translate the outcome of fundamental biochemical investigations on glycosphingolipids and their metabolizing enzymes to improved diagnosis and rational therapies for inherited lysosomal disorders, neuro-degenerative disease and metabolic syndrome. Both fundamental chemical and cellular studies and medical applications will be discussed.

Monday, April 8, 16.30-18.15 – Dr Bobby Florea
Catching enzymes in the act
Enzymes are the best chemists on the planet! They can catalyze some reactions that we can only reconstruct under extreme conditions. Obviously, we need to understand and categorize all possible enzymes present in living organisms. The image shows the chemists view of this topic: the enzyme possesses a reactive group (generally referred to as nucleophile) that is captured by a chemical compound that contains an electrophilic trap and a visualization tag. During this class we will discuss examples of activity-based profiling of enzymes using chemically synthesized molecular probes, coupled to advanced detection and identification methods.

Monday, April 15, 16.30- 18.15 – Prof dr Jaap Brouwer
Engineering kinases to reveal their targets
A large panel of various kinases are crucial players in many essential cellular processes such as cell signaling. Kinases modify many cellular substrates. Therefore, it is not a surprise that many diseases such as cancer as linked to derailed kinase activities. Modern chemical approaches will be discussed that can interfere with (derailed) kinases.

Monday, April 29, 16.30-18.15 – Dr Roxanne Kieltyka
Biomaterials in medical applications
Fundamental chemical approaches such as the development of hydrogels are getting more and more essential as tools for medical applications in the future. The research group of dr Kieltyka designs and synthesizes molecules that self-assemble into polymeric materials using specific non-covalent interactions. These substrates can be used for numerous applications in medicine ranging from disease detection to cell delivery depending on the (bio)molecular design of the self-assembling modules. Both fundamental chemical aspects as well as applied life sciences and (bio)medical applications will be discussed.

Monday May 6, 16.30-18.15 – Dr Sylvestre Bonnet
Light relief in anticancer therapy: photoactivatable metal-based prodrugs
All anticancer drugs have severe side effects for patients because of their high toxicity. The toxicity of certain metal-based anticancer drugs can be temporarily lowered by coordination of sulfur-containing ligands, which prevent the metal ion to bind to biomolecules. In some case, notably when the metal is ruthenium, the bond between the metal atom and the “protecting” ligand is sensitive to visible light and can be selectively broken by light irradiation of the tumor. It is thus possible to synthesize light-activatable anticancer “prodrugs” that are poorly toxic in the dark but become cancer cell-killing molecules after light irradiation. This Honor class will discuss the design and photochemistry of such compounds, and the challenges that lay ahead of us before they can be applied in the clinics.

Monday, May 13, 16.30-17.15 – Dr Mario van der Stelt
Medicinal Marijuana: inspiration for drug discovery
Marijuana has been used in the treatment of various kinds of diseases for centuries. Emerging clinical evidence, as well as anecdotal reports from patients self-medicating with cannabis, suggest that cannabinoid receptor agonists may have a role in treating pain. The analgesic properties of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, have been well established in preclinical models of pain, but its therapeutic effect in man is limited by its undesirable psychotropic activities and abuse potential. This Honors Class will provide you with an overview how we can discover new drugs for the treatment of pain based on marijuana without getting “high” using modern drug discovery technologies.

Monday, May 20, 16.30-18.15 – Prof.dr. Han de Winde
Presentations by the students and epilogue

Course Load

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

Assessment Method

  • Students prepare each session by reading 1-3 relevant scientific articles.

  • At the end of the class, the students write an essay on a chosen chemistry-related topic in life sciences based on the knowledge gathered during the class. During the concluding session, the best 8 essays will be presented by the students in front of all students and teachers.You must pass both assingments in order to complete this course successfully.

Please note: Attendance at all theoretical and practical sessions is required.

Blackboard and uSis

Blackboard will be used in this course. Students can register for the Blackboard site two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Reading List



Enrolling in this course is possible from Tuesday November 6th until Thursday November 15th 23.59 hrs through the Honours Academy, via this link.
It is not necessary to register in uSis.


Prof.dr. Han de Winde