New harvest of ERC Starting Grants

Severo Ochoa - María de Maeztu alliance (SOMMa)
  • 480 ERC Starting Grants have been awarded in the whole of Europe and associated countries
  • 20 of the grants went to Spain, with five SOMMa institutions holding a total of 7 of the grants
  • The researchers are bestowed with up to 1.5 million Euro to be spent over a five-year period


The ERC Starting Grants

480 ERC Starting Grants were awarded at the start of September to researchers from the EU and a number of associated countries. The grants, worth a total of 621 million Euro, give outstanding starting researchers up to 1.5 Million Euro to spend over a period of 5 years. These funds will allow them to build their own teams, while developing ambitious, impactful projects. Being extremely competitive, these grants are in the top tier of the funding opportunities provided to European researchers.

Of the awarded grants of this year, up to 20 went to Spain-based researchers. Seven of those went to SOMMa institutions: the Center for Cooperative Research in Biomaterials (CIC biomaGUNE), the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) and the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (ICMAT).


The SOMMa awardees:

Center for Cooperative Research in Biomaterials

At CIC biomaGUNE, researcher Alberto Elosegui-Artola with his project VISCOMATRIX will study the extracellular matrix. This component of pluricellular organisms is a three-dimensional network made of biomolecules that surround the cells. The extracellular matrix constitutes a local environment in which cells find themselves immersed into a scaffolding that influences their overall mechanical properties. In turn, it influences biological processes such as wound healing or cell growth. The project of Elosegui-Artola addresses a lesser-studied aspect of extracellular matrix mechanic properties: its viscoelasticity. There is evidence that viscoelasticity can play a relevant role in processes such as cancer or fibrosis, as well as in regenerative medicine.

Centre for Genomic Regulation

The CRG was awarded up to three new ERC grants. Of them, their researcher Sara Sdelci will study enzymes critical for cancer cells to divide in an uncontrolled way with her project EPICAMENTE. The newly obtained knowledge would support the design of drugs targeting new processes key to cancer cell growth, while at the same time selectively sparing healthy cells from negative effects.

Several of the awarded projects fall are in fields connected to biomedicine and affine disciplines.

The project EvoCellMap of Arnau Sebé will study the molecular foundations behind the differences in cell types in different organisms. The study, spanning across different species, will examine types of cells as different as are neurons and muscle cells, exploring their common foundations. The research could help answer a question with profound implications: why cellular life exists.

Finally, the project SYSAGING went to researcher Nicholas Stroustrup. Stroustrup will devote his efforts to the development of new experimental tools and mathematical frameworks related to the molecular context of aging. These tools would help understand how certain interventions at the molecular level can result in systemic outcomes, effectively modifying the aging process.

Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia

The project PANDORA, at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), by Loris Rizzello, won another of the awards. The proposal fuels a possible paradigm shift regarding the way in which infectious diseases caused by intracellular pathogens are treated. The aim of the project is to find a universal cure to attack infectious diseases, in the process also tackling the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The project, focusing on tuberculosis, will study which are the molecular signatures exhibited by infected cells. From such signatures, it will aim at being able to recognise and target the infected cells selectively using nanoparticles to attack them, while sparing healthy ones.

Institute of Photonic Sciences

Dmitri Efetov of ICFO was awarded an ERC starting Grant to undertake SuperTwist, a project with the objective of understanding better the superconductivity in a particular sort of graphene: the “magic” angle graphene. This is a type of graphene in which “misaligned” stacks of the material exhibit superconductivity, as well as other particular physical properties. One of the defining characteristics of graphene is its superconductor order parameter, which will be determined for “magic” angle graphene. As no current method can measure it by itself, and key techniques are moreover missing for such nano-scale materials, novel approaches will have to be implemented that combine aspects from disruptive measurement techniques and of materials science

New methods will be developed, overcoming challenges that cannot be addressed by conventional techniques and procedures.

Institute of Mathematical Sciences

Closing the list of SOMMa member awardees, is researcher Javier Gómez Serrano of ICMAT. The project CAPA will address the generation of methods and ideas to find mathematical singularities and ways to fully describe the evolution of fluids regardless of their initial state. This is of particular relevance in the modelling of waves and of hot and cold weather fronts, which relate to the occurrence of storms. Other questions to be addressed fall into a field known as Spectral Mathematics, which includes questions as for example: can the shape of a drum be inferred from its sound? Novel mathematical methods will be proposed, allowing to treat problems that cannot be studied by means of the long-standing “pen and paper” or “chalk and blackboard” approach.


This septemvirate of researchers will, after the five-year period of the grant, doubtlessly have had chance to provide valuable contributions to science. While they consolidate their career and contribute with their research, we wish them successes with their endeavours.


Image credits:

Wet lab picture was cropped from a larger Wet lab picture in the public domain, and downloaded from Pixnio.

Innovation and research picture was downloaded from Flickr and licensed via an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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