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Three ERC Starting Grants for UMCG researchers

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15 September 2016

Three researchers from the University Medical Center Groningen have been awarded a Starting Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). The Starting Grant is a personal grant worth EUR 1.5 million, intended to allow talented young researchers to spend five years on their research.

Cardiologist Peter van der Meer,

is researching the early stages of heart failure, before it causes irreparable damage. As it is too dangerous to remove heart tissue from patients, and impossible during the early stages of heart failure, he is using pluripotent stem cells: skin cells that are reprogrammed to become stem cells. This has enabled researchers to generate a piece of beating heart tissue from patients with heart failure. By exposing this tissue to triggers, such as chemotherapy which is harmful to the heart, Van der Meer is trying to identify new pathways that may influence the development of heart failure.

Geneticist Sasha Zhernakova,

is researching the development of gut flora in new-born babies. At birth, babies only have a limited number of bacteria and viruses in their guts. These numbers increase during the first twelve months, eventually forming a stable colony of gut flora. Zhernakova is trying to discover how viruses and bacteria develop and how this affects the health of babies. She is studying both genetic factors and environmental factors, such as diet, vaccinations and disease. For her research, Zhernakova is using data from LifeLines-Next, a project that collects data from 1,500 babies during the first year of their life.

Biomedical researcher Romana Schirhagl,

is researching the behaviour of free radicals in the cell as the result of stress. These radicals play an important role in the body, with both positive and negative effects. For example, they help to combat viruses and bacteria, but they also damage healthy cells. Free radicals are very short-lived, making them difficult to study. Schirhagl has found a technique that uses nanodiamonds (tiny particles of diamond), which react to the magnetic fields of free radicals by changing fluorescence. In addition, she is studying the way that free radicals react when, for example, they are under attack from bacteria. She hopes to gather new information about the ageing process of cells. 

Read more about Peter van der Meer.
Read more about Sasha Zhernakova.
Read more about Romana Schirhagl.