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The human brain is a remarkable organ, but how did it evolve to give us such unprecedented cognitive abilities? ERC grantee Pierre Vanderhaeghen and his team from ULB, VIB-KU Leuven turned to the genome for answers: a specific set of genes, found only in humans, could play a determinant role on the size of our brain. Published today in Cell, Vanderhaeghen's EU-funded research helps to unlock the secrets of human evolution.
Prof. Giulio Superti-Furga and his team work on understanding the movement of molecules across human cells. In a paper recently published on Cell Host & Microbe, they outline the significance of a single protein, SLC4A7, in phagocytosis, the body's first line of defence against infection. These results, however, go beyond the context of infectious diseases, with repercussions on our knowledge of processes like inflammation and cancer.
Scientists led by ERC grantee Emma Teeling have identified part of the molecular mechanism that gives bat species Myotis their extraordinary long and healthy lifespans. The longest-lived bats can live over 41 years of age while weighing only 7g, which is the human equivalent of some 234 years. They also maintain good health longer than many other mammals. The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, focus on the protective structures at the end of chromosomes, called telomeres. Bats may have evolved unique telomere maintenance mechanisms which allow them to repair age-related cell damage.
Prof. Gregoire Courtine believes paralysed patients will be able to walk again. This belief has represented the focus of years of work aimed at regenerating the functions of the spinal cord after injury. Thanks to his ERC funding in both 2010 and 2015, Prof. Courtine and his team have been able to develop so-called “personalised neuroprosthetics” that have led immobile rats, and more recently monkeys, to overcome their paralysis.
ERC grantee Prof. Maria Antonietta De Matteis studies membrane trafficking in cells and how its components interact and are regulated to guarantee a healthy cell function. Her work could revolutionise our understanding of this key biological process.
Ole Kamstrup, MD., MSc., is a pensioner and lives north of Copenhagen in Denmark. He has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease ten years ago. Since 2013, Mr Kamstrup has been in contact with Professor Deniz Kirik, a neuroscientist at Lund University in Sweden. Professor Kirik, who was awarded an ERC Starting Grant in 2009, develops new therapies for Parkinson’s disease, using viral vectors to deliver therapeutic genes to the brain. An ERC Proof of Concept grant enabled him to start carrying out a market evaluation and writing a business plan for the promising therapy.
Originally published in March 2017 as part of the multimedia campaign "ERC - 10 years – 10 portraits."
European researchers have identified a novel approach to prevent the growth of cancer tumours and inhibit them from spreading, potentially leading to highly effective treatments with fewer side effects.
By focusing on certain actions and reactions within the brain, an EU-funded project has advanced understanding of how Alzheimer’s Disease develops. This could potentially open the door to a new era of targeted treatments.
While women inherit two X chromosomes, the expressions of one of them is shut down during embryonic development. Men have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. The switching off of women’s second X chromosome is thought to compensate for the presence of only one X in males versus two in females, to balance for X-linked gene products between the sexes. X-chromosome inactivation is also one of the clearest examples of what epigenetic mechanisms do to our genetic material: the DNA of the genes on the X is still present but not actively expressed or needed. Prof. Edith Heard was awarded ERC grants to understand the intricate processes behind the phenomenon, with unexpected results that changed the way gene regulation is now looked at.
A crucial discovery of how the brain functions has been made by EU-funded researchers. ERC Advanced Grant holder Prof. Oscar Marin and his team have shown that brain's 'hardware' - using the computing metaphor - is in fact tuneable and can adapt to internal and external influences. The findings could help develop new therapies for neurological disorders such as epilepsy, which affects around 50 million people globally.