Nine scientists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) won out in the latest round of ERC grants. The projects receiving funding are in the disciplines Medicine, Physics and Informatics and deal with a highly varied range of topics such as investigation of autoimmune diseases, innovative algorithms and bio-nanotechnology.
The ERC grants from the European Research Council are among the most distinguished research awards in Europe. They are presented in three categories: Starting Grants for promising young scientists, Consolidator Grants for young principal investigators who earned their doctorate seven to twelve years ago and Advanced Grants for excellent and established scientists who have demonstrated significant achievements within the last ten years. The funding associated with a grant can be as high as 3.5 million Euros.
Six of the nine research grants for TUM go to scientists in the School of Medicine: One Advanced Grant went to Prof. Vasilis Ntziachristos and another to Prof. Matthias Tschöp. Prof. Florian Bassermann and Prof. Marc Schmidt-Supprian were chosen for Consolidator Grants, while Starting Grants were awarded to Prof. Kilian Eyerich and Dr. Dimitrios C. Karampinos. Three more Advanced Grants went to Prof. Susanne Albers of the Department of Informatics, and to Prof. Franz Pfeiffer and Prof. Friedrich Simmel of the Physics Department.
Competition for the EU grant is very intense: This year 940 projects applied for Starting Grants in the category "Life Sciences", with only twelve percent succeeding. TUM was already very successful in the previous rounds: Since 2008 TUM has earned 55 ERC prizes. The new ERC Grants will mean funding for TUM scientists amounting to almost 19 million Euros.
Find out more about the researchers and their projects
ERC Advanced Grants
Prof. Dr. Susanne Albers
Prof. Susanne Albersof the TUM Department of Informatics has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant for her project "APEG" (Algorithmic Performance Guarantees). Prof. Albers has been investigating new techniques for the development of efficient algorithms. Algorithms are sequences of work instructions for solving a previously defined problem and can be found everywhere in everyday life: For example, traffic light cycles are controlled using algorithms.
Among other things Albers wants to use the new techniques to crack the "hard nuts", problems that were already investigated by the pioneers of information science in the 1960s. One example here is the difficulty of distributing tasks to the processors present in a data center in such a way that all the processors bear an equal burden. APEG furthermore intends to solve optimization problems in modern applications, including current graph problems. Graphs are a mathematical concept consisting of nodes and edges, used among other things to model networks such as traffic or computer networks. And APEG will also develop new algorithmic techniques for minimizing energy consumption in computer systems.
Susanne Albers has held the Chair for Theoretical Computer Science aat the TUM since November 2013. Before that she led project groups at the University of Freiburg and Humboldt University Berlin. In 2008 she received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation ("Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft" or DFG) for her research achievements.
Prof. Dr. Vasilis Ntziachristos
Prof. Vasilis Ntziachristos has received a rare honor: The ERC has awarded him an Advanced Grant for the second time. In 2008 the EU agreed to fund development of the imaging method MSOT (Multi-Spectral Optoacoustic Tomography). This technology makes it possible to generate precise 3D deep-tissue imaging: weak laser impulses heat the target area, resulting in minimal vibrations in the tissue. The researchers then record these vibrations with a sensor and convert them into high-resolution three-dimensional images. The procedure is non-invasive, free of radioactive exposure and involves no contrast agents. This technology has already shown successful results for example in the analysis of certain types of skin cancer.
Prof. Ntziachristos and his team will use the funding from the new ERC Grant to further develop MSOT. The name of the current project – "PREMSOT" – stands for Precision Multi-Spectral Optoacoustic Tomography. One of the project's objectives is increasing the method's sensitivity and overcoming technical limitations. This will facilitate applications in the diagnosis of inflammation and metabolic disorders as well as in neurology. Furthermore an inexpensive portable device is to be developed which combines MSOT with ultrasonic applications.
Vasilis Ntziachristos has held the Chair for Biological Imaging since 2007. Prof. Ntziachristos also heads the Institute of Biological and Medical Imaging at the Helmholtz Center Munich, which is closely linked to the Chair and is the primary home of the "PREMSOT" project. In 2014 Prof. Ntziachristos was awarded the German Innovation Prize for MSOT technology. In addition to the two ERC Advanced Grants, in 2012 Prof. Ntziachristos also received a "Proof of Concept Grant" from the ERC.
Prof. Dr. Franz Pfeiffer
Prof. Franz Pfeiffer, faculty member of the Physics department, has received an Advanced Grant for the further expansion of his activities in the area of biomedical X-ray physics.
Modern medicine would be inconceivable without X-ray images. But in the past imaging techniques utilized only the absorption of X-ray radiation. In the case of soft tissue, for example in the lungs, the contrast between healthy and unhealthy tissue is insufficient for early diagnostics. Diseased tissue is not visible to the physician in the X-ray image until serious damage has already occurred.
For many years now Prof. Pfeiffer has been experimenting with monochromatic X-ray radiation which also makes it possible to generate phase contrast and dark field images in addition to absorption images. The project supported by the ERC focuses in particular on the dark field method. Based on images already created with live small animals, the method is to be further developed to the point that dark field computer tomography can also be introduced in clinical use. This method could mean substantial advances in particular in the diagnosis of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which afflicts many millions in Europe alone.
In 2009 Prof. Pfeiffer was appointed to the Chair of Biomedical Physics In 2011 he was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation. And this wasn't the first time the ERC has granted Prof. Pfeiffer funding: He also received a Starting Grant in 2009.
Prof. Dr. Friedrich Simmel
Prof. Friedrich Simmel, , faculty member of the Physics department, focuses on bionanotechnology and the physics of synthetic biological systems. His research emphasizes artificial molecular machines and structures consisting of biological molecules and the design of artificial biochemical control loops.
In the project funded by the ERC Advanced Grant Prof. Simmel intends to find new ways to create intelligent, dynamic microstructures from polymer gels and nucleic acids. The cell-sized components are to have sensory and information processing capabilities and are to be able to generate various materials depending on their local chemical situations.
Another approach is the evolutionary development and optimization of RNA-based molecular switches and nanostructures. Methods derived from molecular evolutionary processes are to generate a large number of various components from which the most suitable components for a particular given task are artificially selected. The objective is a range of macroscopic materials using DNA-programmed intelligence to provide new properties for fields such as environmental sensing technologies and biocatalysis. These materials will also be able to autonomously perform innovative new functions as adaptive materials
Prof. Simmel has held the chair of Bioelectronics since 2007. In 2013 he was inducted into acatech, the German Academy of Science and Engineering. The German Research Foundation named Prof. Simmel an Emmy Noether-Nachwuchsforscher (Young Researcher) in 2002.
Prof. Dr. Matthias Tschöp
Prof. Matthias Tschöp of the School of Medicine also received an ERC Advanced Grant. His project "HypoFlam" will investigate the connections between high-sugar and high-fat diets, inflammatory processes in certain brain regions, and the occurrence of adipositas (obesity) and diabetes.
In a previous study Prof. Tschöp and his team ascertained that a high-sugar and high-fat diet can result in traumatic cell modifications in parts of the hypothalamus. Among other things, this region of the human brain controls the uptake of fluids and nutrition as well as metabolic processes involving sugar and fat.
The scientists assume that these changes in the hypothalamus ultimately contribute to obesity and diabetes, since they impair the function of central control loops. The researchers now want to explain the underlying molecular mechanisms in order to be able to develop new therapies. Special attention is being paid here not only to the involvement of nerve cells, but also to the role of supporting cells (astrocytes), "scavenger cells" (microglia) and certain white blood corpuscles (lymphocytes) which Prof. Tschöp and his team were also able to ascertain in the hypothalamus.
Prof. Tschöp has held the Chair for metabolic disease at TUM since 2011. He is also Scientific Director of the Helmholtz Diabetes Center at the Helmholtz Center Munich, the primary home of the "HypoFlam" project. In 2012 he was the first German physician to receive the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt professorship; since 2013 Tschöp has been a member of the German National Academy of the Sciences, Leopoldina.
ERC Consolidator Grants
Prof. Dr. Florian Bassermann
Prof. Florian Bassermann of the TUM School of Medicine has received an ERC Consolidator Grant for his project "BCM-UPS". The scientist and his team conduct research on new therapeutic approaches against malignant B-cell lymphoma such as mantle cell lymphoma and multiple myeloma. These constitute a subgroup of non-Hodgkin lymphoma for which patient prognosis is very poor.
Bassermann had already discovered in previous studies that functional defects of certain enzymes in the cellular Ubiquitin-Proteasome System (UPS) play a decisive role in the occurrence and development of these forms of cancer. The UPS system is among other things involved in repairing DNA.
Several of these enzymes in the UPS system could serve as possible biomarkers or therapeutic objectives in lymphomas. Prof. Bassermann intends to use the European funding to research their interaction in more exact detail. His interdisciplinary approach will employ cell-biological and proteomic methods, mouse models and clinical patient studies as well as genetic screening of tissue samples.
Florian Bassermann has been a Tenure Track Professor at the TUM since April 2015 and is the head of the "Cell Biology of Cancer" departmentat the Medical Clinic III of the university hospital TUM Klinikum rechts der Isar. He is also a senior physician (Oberarzt) for Hematology/Oncology.
Prof. Dr. Marc Schmidt-Supprian
Prof. Marc Schmidt-Supprian plans to use an interdisciplinary experimental approach to investigate the maturation of B-cells, an process essential to our adaptive immune defense system. During the course of their lives, B-cells either become long-lived memory cells or plasma cells that produce antibodies for defense against hostile microorganisms including bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Should the given individual steps of this maturation process fail, the result can be autoimmune disease. Prof. Schmidt-Supprian's research focuses primarily on how the array of proteins within the cell changes during the development of the B-cell and how the regulating processes work.
Here research is lacking in particular for the so-called RNA-Binding Proteins (RBPs). At the level of RNA, they control how much of a given protein is produced. Prof. Schmidt-Supprian intends to use new mouse models and proteomics studies as well as innovative cell culture systems to investigate more exactly the role of these regulatory proteins in the maturation of B-cells.
In 2014 Marc Schmidt-Supprian was appointed Tenure Track Professor for Experimental Hematology at TUM. He heads the research group "Molecular Immunopathology and Signal Transduction" at the Medical Clinic III of the university hospital TUM Klinikum rechts der Isar.
ERC Starting Grants
Prof. Dr. Kilian Eyerich
The project "IMCIS" by Prof. Kilian Eyerichof the TUM School of Medicine deals with chronic inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis and neurodermatitis (atopic eczema). He and his team plan to develop a detailed and standardized diagnostic procedure for which a total of 86 individual parameters are to be collected and investigated for each patient. This includes molecular analyses in addition to histological investigations of the tissue.
The approach to be taken will be primarily interdisciplinary, i.e. clinical, histological and laboratory values are to be consolidated and evaluated using bioinformatics. The project's objective is identification of biomarkers which could predict the course of illnesses and the possible success of therapy at an early stage.
Since January 2014 Kilian Eyerich has held a Tenure Track Professor position for Experimental Dermato-Immunology as part of a Heisenberg professorship. He has also been a senior physician at the Clinic and Polyclinic for Dermatology and Allergology of the university hospital TUM Klinikum rechts der Isar since 2012.
Dr. Dimitrios C. Karampinos
Dr. Dimitrios C. Karampinos, TUM School of Medicine, received the prestigious EU research award for his research project "ProFatMRI". In the project he concentrates on the further development of the imaging modality Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in order to investigate human fatty tissue in the living system.
Dr. Karampinos will develop innovative MRT methods which will for the first time enable non-invasive investigation and quantification of the microstructures of fatty tissue, in particular brown fat and marrow fat. Such developments could mean progress in the diagnosis and therapy of illnesses such as the metabolic syndrome, a combination of obesity, insulin resistance and high blood pressure, or osteoporosis. Fatty tissue either within the bone or in various body fat depots plays an important role in the course and manifestation of both illnesses.
After completing his university studies in mechanical engineering in Athens and earning a doctorate focusing on bioengineering sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Dimitrios Karampinos did post-doctoral work at the Radiology Department of the University of California in San Francisco. Since September 2012 he has headed the group "Body Magnetic Resonance Imaging" at the Institute for Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology at the TUM university hospital TUM Klinikum rechts der Isar.
TUM ERC Grants
European Research Council (ERC)
Overview of the ERC Grant Categories