Published: 2022-02-02 17:33 | Updated: 2022-02-04 17:08

StratNeuro awards two bridging grants at the consolidator level for junior researchers

Double portrait
Ulrika Marklund (photo: Johannes Frandsén) and Emanuela Santini (photo: private).

The bridging grant is a funding initiative where StratNeuro, and other strategic research areas (SFOs) at KI, award funding to promising researchers with outstanding scientific merits, giving them the opportunity to consolidate their research.

The bridging grants provide two-year funding at the consolidator level to the highest ranked applicants who were not awarded the KI five-year consolidator grants.

Bridging grant recipients

  • Ulrika Marklund, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics: Dissecting cellular diversity in the enteric nervous system - a gateway to gut physiology and regeneration.
  • Emanuela Santini, Department of Neuroscience: Synaptic and molecular alterations of the striatum in autism spectrum disorders.

StratNeuro decided based on an external review process that each researcher will be awarded 1.2 million SEK per year, for two years (2022-2023).

Evaluation process

StratNeuro received all the applications to the 2021 KI consolidator grant and selected 17 applications that were in the neuroscience field. These applications were then evaluated by a panel of external reviewers.

External reviewers

The external reviewers were:

  • Per Petersson, Umeå University
  • Anna Rostedt Punga, Uppsala University
  • Lars Nyberg, Umeå University
  • Paolo Medini, Umeå University

Reviewing and scoring was conducted following the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) review process, including declaration of conflict of interest.
 

StratNeuro is committed to transparency and gender equality

Reviewing process for the 17 proposals (76% women and 24% men):

The StratNeuro board discussed whether StratNeuro board members should apply for the KI consolidator grant, since they would then also potentially be eligible for the StratNeuro bridging grant (see notes from 15-03-2021).

The board unanimously agreed that junior members on the StratNeuro board should apply to the KI consolidator grant on the condition that these board members would be excluded from discussions and decisions related to the bridging grant, which was strictly observed and recorded in the StratNeuro meeting minutes (see notes from March-December 2021 on our webpage).

Ulrika Marklund, researcher in the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institutet.
Ulrika Marklund, researcher in the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institutet. Photo: Magnus Bergström

Interviews

We got in touch with Ulrika and Emanuela to ask them about their projects.

Ulrika, tell us about your project!

My project is entitled Dissecting cellular diversity in the enteric nervous system - a gateway to gut physiology and regeneration. I’m studying one of the most underinvestigated parts of the nervous system, namely the enteric nervous system (ENS) of the gastrointestinal tract. My group has recently put forward a molecular classification of the neuronal and glial types of the ENS and we are now determining how these cell types emerge during development, form functional networks and how they communicate with other organs.

What does this grant mean for you and your research?

I’m very excited and honored to be awarded the StratNeuro Bridge Grant, which means I can solidify and broaden my research branch.

Is anyone else involved in the project?

I collaborate with David Linden and Arthur Beyder at Mayo Clinic in Rochester (USA) to resolve the physiological function of different enteric sensory neuron types. I am also fortunate to be part of a very interactive and dynamic research unit (Molecular Neurobiology), with expertise in various single cell omics, cell engineering and advanced imaging.

How can your research influence patient care and treatment? Which patient groups will benefit from the research and how?

It is estimated that up to 30% of the general population suffer from permanent gut dysfunction but in most cases the causes have not been figured out, meaning that treatments also are scarce. Given the central role of the ENS in regulating gut physiology, it is likely involved in many of these conditions.

My focus on creating a better understanding of the normal ENS is a prerequisite to understand the neural component of gut disorders which consequently will lead to better diagnostics and treatments. Relevant disorders include inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, achalasia but also Parkinson’s disease.

What happens next?

I would like to implement our findings on ENS development in regenerative therapy for gut neuropathies where specific types of neurons are affected. I will also explore how the ENS affects and is influenced by inflammation, and the role of this neuro-immune interaction in inflammatory bowel disease and other conditions.

portrait
Emanuela Santini, researcher in the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Insitutet.

Emanuela, could you give a brief description of your project?

The main goal of this project entitled Synaptic and molecular alterations of the striatum in autism spectrum disorders, is to understand the pathological brain alterations associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). We aim to gain insight into the neuronal circuits, as well as synaptic and molecular mechanisms underlying ASD behavioral core symptoms. 

What does this grant mean for you and your research?

This grant is very important for our research and will allow us to go the extra mile. Now, we have more time and resources to investigate the cell-independent effects of the ASD-risk gene we are interested in, and to extend our studies to additional preclinical models.

Is anyone else involved in the project?

Yes, Dr. Anders Borgkvist at the Department of Neuroscience, is our closest collaborator.

How can your research influence patient care and treatment? Which patient groups will benefit from the research and how?

Our research may indirectly affect patients. Part of our efforts are devoted to the identification of shared pathogenic molecular pathways in preclinical ASD models. Eventually, this may lead to the identification of molecular markers for clinical diagnosis and to the development of mechanism-based therapeutics.

What are your future plans? 

My short-term plans consist in disseminate the exciting finding we have collected so far in the laboratory. Overall, our studies indicate a central role of the striatum in the onset and development of ASD-like core behaviors. The long-term plans entail in establishing novel ASD preclinical models and in extending our discoveries to neuronal circuits regulating emotional aspects of ASD symptomatology.

The Strategic Research Area Neuroscience (StratNeuro)

The strategic research area neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet, Umeå University and KTH has the mission to integrate clinical and basic research and to foster a new generation of leaders and scientists in translational neuroscience.