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14 AcademiaNet members secure ERC Proof of Concept grants

25.2.2022 | The grants will be used to explore commercialisation of existing projects, ranging from RNA technology to textiles made with artificial spider silk.
A total of 14 AcademiaNet members have won Proof of Concept funding (PoC) from the European Research Council (ERC), to test the practical and potentially commercial feasibility of their recent ERC-backed projects. For this purpose, they will get €150,000 each.

ERC Grant
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ERC Grant

Most of the projects are in the natural sciences. For example, at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, Prof Valeria Nicolosi has secured funds for a new class of 3D-printed materials that can shield against electromagnetic interference in wireless communications, such as 5G technology. The materials will be based on 2D nanomaterials, i.e. materials consisting of only one layer of atoms, which have also caught the eye of Prof Elvira Fortunato at the NOVA University Lisbon. She will use the PoC grant for her project e-GREEN, which aims to make the 2D material graphene out of eco-friendly materials such as paper, in order to print electronic circuits on them.

Across the board, materials is a hot topic. At the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, Dr Anna Rising is working on creating textiles from artificial spider silk, made from proteins produced by bacteria. Spider silk could replace plastic-based fibres used to make textiles, and the grant will allow Dr Rising to scale up production.

Others are tackling diseases. In Israel, Dr Vered Padler-Karavani of Tel Aviv University and Prof Sharon Ruthstein of Bar-Ilan University are both looking at cancer-related diagnostics. Dr Padler-Karavani aims to find tell-tale cancer glycosylation signatures, whereas Prof Ruthstein is developing a novel radiotracer to monitor oxygen-deficient cancer cells, which can indicate cancer aggressiveness. Similarly, Prof Gabriela Constantin from the University of Verona, Italy, has received funds to pursue a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease, by targeting toxicity in the brain, related to white blood cells known as neutrophils.

In Germany, pharmacist Prof Olivia Merkel of Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich will pursue her project RNhale, a potential way to treat asthma through inhalation of RNA nanocarriers in the form of a powder. RNA is another area that has proved popular: at the University of Münster, Prof Andrea Rentmeister is looking to turn her FlashCaps technology, which is based on mitochondrial RNAs activated by light, into a marketable product.

Yet another focus is microfluidics. Dr Sohini Kar-Narayan from the University of Cambridge is looking to revolutionise orthopaedic surgery through her microfluidic force sensors, which can monitor force in joints in real time. Likewise, at the University of Minho in Portugal, Prof Manuela Gomes will kickstart BioCHIPS, a project aimed at biofabricating a microfluidic device to mimic the human extracellular matrix as a platform for growing organs or tissues-on-a-chip. In a similar vein, Prof Roísín Owens from the University of Cambridge is looking to further develop three-dimensional polymer devices for models of the human gut, which can be used for drug screening.

Interestingly, only one member has received a grant for COVID-related research: Prof Lucie Cluver. At the University of Oxford, she is developing PROTECT, an open-source parenting platform to help end trauma related to COVID. Another unique project among the AcademiaNet members is led by Prof Victoria Reyes-García at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, who researches the knowledge systems of Indigenous peoples, especially how they relate to the environment and climate change. With her new PoC grant, she aims to create a toolkit for working with these knowledge systems.

Clearly, there is nothing like a large ERC funding round to showcase the spectacular breadth of research undertaken by AcademiaNet’s members.
  (© Emilie Steinmark / AcademiaNet /

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