Dec 12 2019 Posted: 09:57 GMT

/media/researchcentres/curam/latestnews/Laoise-ERC-.jpg/media/researchcentres/curam/latestnews/Laoise-ERC-.jpgProfessor Laoise McNamara and Dr Dimitrios Zeugolis will lead prestigious European funded projects

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded two NUI Galway researchers €4.4 million to pursue ‘blue-sky’ biomedical research. With this support, Professor Laoise McNamara and Dr Dimitrios Zeugolis, will pursue frontier research to achieve far-reaching impact on improving human health./media/researchcentres/curam/latestnews/Laoise-ERC-.jpg

Professor McNamara and Dr Zeugolis were winners in the prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant competition which saw 301 top scholars and scientists from across Europe receive awards, following a review of 2,453 proposals.

Professor Lokesh Joshi, Vice-President for Research at NUI Galway, said: “These awards are among the most prestigious and competitive in Europe. Myself and the entire NUI Galway research community are delighted for both Laoise and Dimitrios who have demonstrated their excellence and leadership in research.”

Professor Laoise McNamara – MEMETic

Professor Laoise McNamara, who was recently announced as the Irish Research Council Researcher of the Year 2019, will lead the MEMETic project which will focus on bone disease.  

According to Professor McNamara of the Biomechanics Research Centre, and CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices at NUI Galway: “My research is in the field of mechanobiology, which is at the interface between engineering and biology. Our work seeks to understand the biological mechanisms by which bone cells sense and respond to the forces they experience during every day physical activity, and how these are affected by Osteoporosis.

Despite immense efforts to develop therapies for osteoporosis, conventional drugs that target bone loss only prevent osteoporotic fractures in 50% of sufferers, and the worldwide economic burden of treatment is projected to reach $132 billion by 2050. In this project we will develop advanced models to allow us to investigate how our bones react to changes in the physical environment, from a cellular level right the way up. We will use these models to increase understanding of bone disease and our ultimate aim is to apply these models to improve the success rates of therapies for osteoporosis.”   

Dr Dimitrios Zeugolis - ACHIEVE

Dr Dimitrios Zeugolis, Director of REMODEL and Investigator at CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices at NUI Galway, will lead the ACHIEVE project. The aim is to bring new advances to cell culture methods and address major bottlenecks in regenerative medicine, drug discovery and cellular agriculture.  

According to Dr Zeugolis: “Currently, the development of cellular products, products made from cells cultured in the lab, is hampered by the lengthy culture periods taken when the cells are removed from their natural environment: the human or animal body. This time factor is responsible for the cells losing their normal function, resulting in suboptimal cellular products. With this project, we want to engineer culture environments that imitate the tissue from which the cells were extracted, thus maintaining their physiological function during experimental culture and significantly reducing the culture period. We believe the work will lead to a paradigm shift in cell culture methods with ground-breaking impacts across diverse fields, such as regenerative medicine, drug discovery and cellular agriculture.”

Both grantees recognised as part of their success the support of their research students, postdoctoral and support staff, collaborators, friends and family, and funders. Professor Lokesh Joshi noted that the announcement built on years of previous successful projects for Professor McNamara and Dr Zeugolis, which were supported by Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council, Health Research Board, Teagasc, Enterprise Ireland and the European Commision, and through industry collaboration.

Speaking at the announcement of the European Research Council awards, Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “Knowledge developed in these new projects will allow us to understand the challenges we face at a more fundamental level, and may provide us with breakthroughs and innovations that we haven’t even imagined. The EU’s investment in frontier research is an investment in our future, which is why it is so important that we reach an agreement on an ambitious Horizon Europe budget for the next multiannual budget. More available research funding would also allow us to create more opportunities everywhere in the EU - excellence should not be a question of geography.”

ERC President Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, whose mandate ends on 31 December 2019 after six years in office, commented: “I have had the immense privilege of seeing thousands of bright minds across our continent receive the trust and backing to go after their most daring ideas. It has been an exhilarating experience through countless meetings with many of them in person, listening to their stories and being inspired by them. As it’s about top frontier research, it comes as no surprise that an overwhelming number of them already made breakthroughs that will continue to contribute greatly to meeting the challenges ahead. As I bid farewell to an organisation that will always remain close to my heart, I am once more highly impressed when I see this latest set of grantees funded by the European Research Council. That the ERC empowers them makes me proud to be European!”

For more about the ERC Consolidator Grant awards, visit: https://erc.europa.eu/news/erc-awards-over-600-million-euro-europes-top-researchers

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