Crick group leaders Vivian Li, Moritz Treeck and Florencia Iacaruso have been awarded European Research Council grants totalling €5.5 million in support of their continuing research and professional development.
Their exciting research proposals aim to answer a diverse range of questions about health and disease: what are the mechanisms underpinning our bowel health, including the development of cancer; how malaria parasites adapt to survive in the body; and how neural circuits are organised in the brain to allow animals to interpret sensory information and respond.
Vivian Li and Moritz Treeck are both recipients of ERC Consolidator Grants, which are designed to support excellent researchers at the career stage at which they may still be consolidating their own independent research team or programme (seven to twelve years post PhD). Applicants must demonstrate the ground-breaking nature, ambition and feasibility of their scientific proposals.
Over 2600 researchers applied for this round of funding and 12% secured grants worth €632 million in total. This includes 41 successful applications from the UK, making it one of the top benefiting countries. Vivian and Moritz were two of 11 researchers in the UK awarded life sciences grants.
The role of WNT signalling in bowel cancer
Vivian and her team in the Crick’s Stem Cell and Cancer Biology Laboratory will be studying a biological pathway essential to cell maintenance and renewal, called WNT signalling. WNT is overactive in many cases of bowel cancer, but it has been hard to successfully target this signalling pathway with drugs. By uncovering the mechanisms behind WNT signalling, the researchers hope to guide the development of targeted cancer immunotherapies.
How malaria parasites adapt to survive in the body
Moritz leads the Crick’s Signalling in Apicomplexan Parasites Laboratory. His team will investigate how the malaria causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum can regulate disease pathology to adapt to changes in the human body such as fever. By adjusting the rigidity and ‘stickyness’ of infected red blood cells, the parasite can ensure maximum survival in the body without killing the host. Understanding this process could open up avenues for exploring new treatments.
Sensing and responding to environmental threats
Florencia Iacaruso, head of the Crick’s Neuronal Circuits and Behaviour Laboratory, has also been awarded an ERC starting grant. This programme is open to researchers who completed their PhD two to seven years earlier, who have a promising scientific track record and an excellent research proposal.
This latest Starting Grant is one of 5 awarded to Crick group leaders this year . It is another highly competitive ERC programme, attracting over 4000 proposals.
Florencia and her team will be studying how animals process multiple sensory inputs, including light and sound, within a specific region of the brain called the superior colliculus. By recording and tracing the activity of neurons in this critical brain structure, they hope to determine how animals combine audio-visual information to estimate the location of a threat and guide the selection of defensive responses, such as freezing and escape.
The value of EU funding
Funding from the European Union continues to provide essential support for researchers and scientific studies across the UK. Association with future EU programmes will be vital to realise the government’s ambitions as a Science Superpower.
Paul Nurse, director of the Crick says: “It’s great to see continuing success for Crick scientists in securing these highly competitive awards. Congratulations to everyone who has been awarded funding.
“As negotiations with the EU continue, it is still uncertain whether researchers in the UK will continue to benefit from this critical support. These grants not only provide valuable financial backing for research studies, but also facilitate cross-border collaborations in all of Europe, sparking the innovation that leads to life-changing discoveries.”