The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded prestigious Consolidator Grants to three projects at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). The ERC also has also announced 27 generously endowed Synergy Grants for ambitious research initiatives throughout Europe, including one in which TUM researchers will play a central role.
Applications to the well-funded Consolidator Grants are open to researchers with 7–12 years' experience since completion of a doctorate. The projects receive up to €2 million in funding from the ERC.
In addition, the ERC issued a call for proposals for Synergy Grants this year for the first time since 2013. Applications were open to teams of two to four scientists engaged in interdisciplinary projects seeking to make new discoveries at the interfaces between different fields of research. A project can receive a grant of up to €10 million.
Synergy Grant: Project PoInt (Physics, Medicine)
Integrins are proteins used by cells to adhere to the extracellular matrix. They are therefore central to all multicellular life and can cause various illnesses when they malfunction. In cell adhesion, mechanical forces apparently play an important role, too. However, these forces and the biochemical and biophysical signals transmitted in connection with adhesion are not yet well understood. This exciting interdisciplinary question will now be explored in the Synergy Project "PoInt", which will bring together medical researchers and physicists: Prof. Reinhard Fässler (cellular biology), Prof. Matthias Rief (single-molecule force spectroscopy), and Prof. Andreas Bausch (cellular mechanics). Together they aim to develop the tools to learn more about integrins and how cells stick together.
Prof. Reinhard Fässler is the director of the Molecular Medicine department at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried.
Prof. Matthias Rief holds the Chair of Molecular Biophysics at TUM.
Prof. Andreas Bausch holds the Chair of Cellular Biophysics at TUM.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Matthias Althoff (Informatics)
Self-driving cars, autonomous aircraft and support robots are intended to make our lives easier. But when autonomous systems make mistakes, they can pose dangers to their surroundings. Consequently, it has been necessary to test every conceivable situation before putting such systems into operation. How will an autonomous vehicle respond when cars come from the left and right at the same time, or when the road is wet? Even the most likely scenarios are far too numerous to test in advance. In his ERC project justITSELF, Matthias Althoff therefore plans to develop just-in-time verification. Instead of exhaustive advance testing, the system will continually assess its next actions by incorporating all possible changes that can occur in its immediate environment within a short time. This will save costs while making systems more autonomous. Matthias Althoff plans to study solutions, in particular for self-driving vehicles, and incorporate the results in open-source software.
Matthias Althoff is a professor of cyber physical systems at the Chair for Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Real-time Systems at TUM.
Prof. Dr. Andreas Pichlmair (Medicine)
The human body has sophisticated defense systems against various threats. Prof. Andreas Pichlmair is interested in how the body fends off viruses. In viral infections, certain proteins change their stability characteristics and their bonding properties to other protein molecules. In his project "Protein Dynamics in Antiviral Processes (ProDAP)", Prof. Pichlmair will analyze the influence of interactions of proteins and protein stability on the antiviral immune system. Initial results suggest that the body's ability to change both of those factors plays an essential role in regulating the immune system and fighting viral pathogens. Targeted changes to the activity of these proteins could open up avenues to new treatments. Pichlmair uses mass spectrometry and bioinformation system analysis to characterize and perform functional testing of the dynamics of protein stability and interactions.
Andreas Pichlmair was appointed to the Chair of Viral Immunopathology at TUM in 2017.
Prof. Dr. Roland Rad (Medicine)
One of the most dangerous characteristics of many forms of cancer is the metastasis of primary tumors. Little is known about the genetic activity and signaling pathways involved in that process, however. In his "PACA-MET" project, Prof. Roland Rad will study pancreatic cancer – an aggressive tumorous condition characterized by very early metastatic activity. Prof. Rad and his team will begin by identifying the molecular processes underlying metastasis. To do that, he will use genetic tools and methods that he has developed to systematically search the genome for genes associated with metastasis. Studies with mouse models, based on transposons ("jumping genes"), will be used to draw the "genetic map" of metastasis. In the second step, Prof. Rad will explore how individual molecular processes involved in metastasis function to identify new approaches to cancer treatment.
Prof. Roland Rad is the director of the ist Institute of Molecular Oncology and Functional Genomics at TUM.