Two ERC Starting Grants for young BME researchers

Two challenging projects for talented Assistant Professors of Biomedical Engineering are awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) with individual Starting Grants of up to € 1.8 million each. The projects are about predicting the performance of cardiovascular implants, and exploiting the immune system for superior cellular vaccines.

Predicting cardiovascular regeneration – Sandra Loerakker (Biomedical Engineering)

Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of mortality worldwide. Cardiovascular tissue engineering (CVTE) is a promising alternative to the current treatment strategies, which can only delay or prevent disease progression. CVTE is based on the use of artificial and biodegradable materials which can be implanted directly in the patient’s body and replace, for example, damaged blood vessels and heart valves. Over time, these materials should gradually transform into living biological tissues that match the healthy native tissue in terms of form and function. Sandra Loerakker will work on the development of mathematical models that mimic the interactions occurring in this environment and, thus, predict the emergence of organization and associated performance of the implanted biomaterials. “If successful” - says Loerakker – “this project will have a tremendous impact on the development of guidelines for ensuring the successful regeneration of cardiovascular tissues, which represents a breakthrough towards creating superior cardiovascular replacements.”

Decoding cellular interactions – Jurjen Tel (Biomedical Engineering)

Our immune system is trained to protect us against a broad range of threats. Understanding how immune cells achieve this breadth and flexibility is a core challenge for Jurjen Tel. The protagonists of this research is a particular class of immune cells, the dendritic cells. “Amongst the dendritic cells” – explains Tel – “plasmacytoid DCs (pDCs) are rare dendritic cells, which are capable of producing massive amounts of interferons in response to viruses, priming killer T cells, and destroying tumor cells, in close collaboration with other immune cells. Because of this wide range of mode of actions, pDCs are considered to be the Swiss army knife of our immune system”. The ambitious goal of this five years project is to achieve a full mechanistic understanding of immune cells activation, communication and heterogeneity, which paves the way for the development of superior cellular vaccines to battle cancer and infectious and auto-immune diseases.

ERC mission and grants

The ERC’s mission is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support frontier research across all fields, on the basis of scientific excellence. ERC grants allow Europe's brightest minds to identify new opportunities and directions in any field of research, and catalyze new and unpredictable scientific and technological discoveries. Starting Grants have yearly calls and are meant for researchers of any nationality with 2-7 years of experience since completion of their PhD. More info can be found at this link.