Across-the-board success for Portugal in European Research Council funding
With a set of results yet to be announced, the number of Studentships ERC secured by researchers in Portugal in 2015 is ten: 4 Starting Grants (for researchers with two to seven years of post-PhD experience); 3 Consolidator Gr ants (for researchers with more than seven years of post-PhD experience) and 3 Proof of Concept Grants (for ERC-funded researchers who wish to take their results to market or address social challenges).
José Bessa, who leads a team at I3S (Institute for Research and Innovation in Health, University of Porto), was the fourth scientist to be awarded a prestigious ERC Starting Grant, a Studentship worth 1.5 million euros. In his words, "the ERC Starting Grant will allow us to develop a 5-year research project at the highest level, using state-of-the-art technology and with a highly specialized and dedicated team of scientists", which will seek to identify how DNA sequences that do not encode genes contribute to pancreatic diseases, in particular diabetes. Through the zebra fish study, José Bessa intends to identify and test new sequences associated with diabetes, without using patients. However, the results of this team's research will have a strong impact on the treatment of diabetes in humans, through the identification of potential new therapeutic targets.
Edgar Gomes (Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Lisbon), Rui Costa (Champalimaud Neurosciences Program) and António Jacinto (Center for Chronic Disease Studies, New University of Lisbon), having already been funded by the ERC, have recently secured funding to explore the innovative potential of their research. They have obtained Proof of Concept Grantsthat will allow them to develop prototypes and explore the therapeutic potential of drugs, with the aim of transferring the results of their work to industry.
Edgar Gomes will use the Proof of Concept Grant in the commercial implementation of the prototype of the three-dimensional cellular system developed in his laboratory, which mimics some muscle diseases. The goal is that this prototype can be used in any laboratory in the world to test new drugs for the treatment of these debilitating diseases.
Rui Costa is also betting on the construction of a prototype, this one of a portable brain-machine interface, that can be adapted to different types of equipment, to be used in the health area, but also in entertainment, and to support day-to-day tasks.
António Jacinto, in partnership with the start-up company Thelial, proposes to test the drugs that the company has developed for the treatment of Leaky Gut syndrome, and other pathologies that compromise the lining of organs.
These Studentships, announced by the ERC in January, follow the 3 Consolidator Grants announced at the end of 2015, with a value of around 2 million euros each. Marina Costa Lobo (Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon) stands out in the set of those selected by the ERC in 2015, because her research is in the area of social sciences. Her Consolidator Grant will allow her to deepen the study of the impact of the theme "Europe" in the parliamentary elections held in several countries since the beginning of the Eurozone crisis.
Mónica Dias will continue her research on the role of centrioles (small structures in cells) in cell division, cell movement, and communication with neighboring cells, with an impact on understanding disorders of the nervous system, cancer, and infertility.
Hélder Maiato seeks to understand the mechanisms that control the process by which chromosomes separate, during cell division, called mitosis. Errors in this process, strictly controlled, lead to aneuploidy - cells with more or less chromosomes than they should have - a prevalent phenomenon in tumor cells.
Monica Bettencourt Dias, Rui Costa, Edgar Gomes and José Bessa were selected for the FCT Investigator Program in 2012 and 2013.
(Image credits: I3S - Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde; Instituto de Medicina Molecular; Centro de Estudos de Doenças Crónicas; Instituto de Ciências Sociais; Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Álvaro Isidoro)