Three ERC Consolidator Grants for one vision: Enhancing human health with innovative research

Three researchers at Helmholtz Zentrum München are winners of the Consolidator Grant competition of the European Research Council (ERC). Ali Ertürk, Carsten Marr and Gil Westmeyer will thus have the opportunity to drive forward their pioneer work in biomedical research with innovative methods based on artificial intelligence or biological imaging.

© Background image: niko180180/Adobe Stock (modified); © Logo: European Research Council

“Research depends on visionary minds,” says Prof. Matthias Tschöp, CEO at Helmholtz Zentrum München. “The selected projects of our scientists all have one thing in common: They create cutting-edge technological methods to find solutions for the most pressing health challenges of our time.”

The projects at a glance:

Dr. Ali Ertürk: CALVARIA – Translating research on skullcap for neurodegenerative diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases are often connected with inflammation of the brain. As the skullcap (calvaria) is connected to the meninges of the brain (via skull meninges connections, SMCs), it is potentially also involved in these brain diseases. Since the skull is easier accessible than the brain, biomarkers could be identified more easily and quickly. Therefore, Ali Ertürk will study the detailed cellular characteristics of skull. Technologies such as tissue clearing and deep learning algorithms will help to analyze murine and human models with acute and chronic neuroinflammation. Skull imaging will provide diagnostic options for neurodegenerations such as stroke or dementia. A potential therapeutic manipulation of the skull cells for the control of these diseases will also be looked at. Knowledge about the state of skull in health and disease could deliver novel diagnostic and therapeutic targets to reduce the risk of neurological diseases.  Ertürk applied for this grant together with Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU).

Dr. Carsten Marr: Computational Hematopathology – Understanding blood diseases

Despite decades of intensive research on blood diseases, no methods are available yet to accurately predict the dynamics of blood cells. At the same time, a lot is known about the mechanisms and development of blood stem cells, and clinics and medical laboratories collect an enormous amount of data for each patient. However, the evaluation of these data is still mostly done manually and is therefore not standardized, time-consuming and can be done by experts only. Especially with large image data such as blood and bone marrow smears, experts reach their limits. Carsten Marr wants to analyze these data using artificial intelligence and mathematical models. Together with his team, he will develop algorithms and software tools for the automated classification of image data, enabling a more reproducible and precise diagnosis. With the results of this classification, a mathematical model will be parameterized to predict the dynamics of healthy or diseased blood cells. This will standardize the diagnosis of blood diseases and thus improve the treatment of patients with hematological malignancies.

Dr. Gil Westmeyer: EMcapsulins – Visualizing neuronal information processing

Brains are composed of complex neuronal networks in which information moves in a similarly dynamic way as traffic on the road. In cooperation with the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Gil Westmeyer intends to develop biotechnological methods that will help to better understand how neuronal networks process and store information. Electron microscopy provides a detailed anatomy of these neuronal networks in form of static road maps. However, until today electron microscopy has not been able to provide any information on molecular activation patterns, equivalent to the movement of the traffic. Westmeyer will therefore use novel genetically encoded markers in nerve cells that will visualize the molecular states of neurons directly in an electron microscope. In future, functional maps will be able to provide insights into the cellular mechanisms of neuronal information processing and lead to new knowledge about disorders in neuropsychiatric diseases. 


Further information about the ERC Consolidator Grants

The aim of the ERC Consolidator Grants is to enable scientists to consolidate their research groups. In an independent peer review process, scientists are selected based on their research excellence. The maximum funding for ERC Consolidator Grants as part of EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding program is two million Euros for a maximum period of five years.

In this competition, 301 researchers from Europe received 600 million Euros in funding. Germany is the country that acquired the highest number of ERC Consolidator Grants. Details can be found in the ERC press release.  




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