Published: 30-03-2023 12:11 | Updated: 30-03-2023 13:09

Three KI researchers awarded ERC Advanced Grants

Björn Högberg, Maria Eriksson and Gonçalo Castelo-Branco
Professors Björn Högberg, Maria Eriksson and Gonçalo Castelo-Branco have been awarded ERC Advanced Grants, one of the most prestigious funding schemes in Europe. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman och Ulf Sirborn

Three professors at Karolinska Institutet – Gonçalo Castelo-Branco, Maria Eriksson and Björn Högberg – have been awarded ERC Advanced Grants, one of the most prestigious and competitive EU funding schemes. The funds, totaling more than 8 million euros, will support the use of innovative basic research methods to further our understanding of disease mechanisms and the tiniest building blocks of DNA.

The European Research Council (ERC) on March 30 announced the 2022 recipients of the ERC Advanced Grants. In total, 218 research leaders across Europe – chosen from among 1,650 applicants – will receive grants of EUR 544 million for a period of five years.

The funding will enable these researchers to explore their most innovative and ambitious ideas. Read about the projects funded at KI in the summaries below.

Funded projects at KI

Gonçalo Castelo-Branco, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics 
Amount awarded: EUR 3,182,846
Title: “Unveiling the functional outcome of single nucleotide polymorphisms and variants in oligodendroglia in multiple sclerosis”
Project summary: The Castelo-Branco group will use single-cell and spatial sequencing technologies to investigate the function of oligodendrocytes, cells of the central nervous system, in the context of multiple sclerosis (MS). Previous research has shown that oligodendrocytes play an important role in the progression of MS, which is characterized by an immune attack of the brain. This project will aim to further elucidate how genetic variations in the DNA of MS patients impact the behaviour of oligodendrocytes, thus offering unique insights to the mechanisms underlying this debilitating disease.

Maria Eriksson, Department of Biosciences and Nutrition
Amount awarded: EUR 2,532,795
Title: “Somatic mutations in vascular-wall function and age-associated disease”
Project summary: The Eriksson group will map somatic mutations in human arterial wall cells by using a combination of advanced sequencing methods. Previous research has shown that all cells accumulate mutations in their genomes during development and aging. The project will aim to generate models that can map the fate of mutated cells and thus shed light on which mutations contribute to cause disease or aging in vascular tissue. These insights could in the future lead to the identification of new genetic factors that may be therapeutically targeted to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Björn Högberg, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics
Amount awarded: EUR 2,500,000
Title: “The sequencing microscope – a path to look at the molecules of biology”
Project summary: The Högberg group aims to provide new methods for looking at spatial distribution of molecules in biological samples. The goal is to increase the rate of discovery in biological research by harnessing the quickly growing technologies of sequencing and computation to create pictures of DNA molecular locations in 3D. The findings could in the future help inform the design of more targeted drug discovery.

About the ERC Advanced Grant

The ERC Advanced Grant is one of four core grant schemes provided by the ERC, the European Union’s premier funding organization for frontier research. They are awarded to established researchers who are exceptional leaders in terms of originality and significance of their research contributions over the past decade.

The deadline to apply for the next round of ERC Advanced Grants is May 23.