Tuesday July 28th 2020

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Each year, the European Research Council awards Proof of Concept grants to ERC grant holders who wish to take their ERC research one step further towards application. This year, no less than three VIB principal investigators have received an ERC PoC grant: Prof. Kevin Verstrepen (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology), Prof. Patrik Verstreken, and Prof. Stein Aerts (both from the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain and Disease Research).

Funding Impact
ERC Proof of Concept grants have been developed specifically to fund the transition of basic ERC-funded research into socio-economic impact. With an ERC PoC grant, an innovative idea originating from ERC research can be explored in terms of its commercial potential and societal value. The PoC grants are awarded for a period of 18 months and comprise a lump sum of 150,000 euro. 

This year, three VIB principal investigators have been awarded an ERC PoC grant to further develop their innovative ideas: Prof. Kevin Verstrepen (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology), Prof. Patrik Verstreken, and Prof. Stein Aerts (both from the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain and Disease Research).

Prof. Kevin Verstrepen’s project SUPERYEAST will explore the generation of superior industrial yeasts that combine optimal fermentation performance with more efficient biomass production. The Verstrepen lab will focus on the detection of a previously discovered Saccharomyces cerevisiae gene that renders yeast strains less sensitive to glucose inhibition and therefore makes them easier to grow. This study will benefit the many fields in which S. cerevisiae plays a key role, such as the production of fermented beverages like beer and wine, foods including bread and chocolate, but also bioethanol, enzymes and pharmaceuticals.

The project of Prof. Patrik Verstreken, TARGETSYNAPTICTAU, will investigate ways to repair neuronal communication defects that are caused by tau, a protein linked to several brain diseases. Verstreken and his team will use innovative tools to decrease the levels of specific proteins involved in neuron-to-neuron signal transmission. Exploring this avenue may lead to improved and novel treatment options for various conditions associated with cognitive decline.

In the project EnhancerDesign, Prof. Stein Aerts and his team will combine Artificial Intelligence with techniques to study gene activity in individual cells to create a pipeline for the design of new gene therapies. By focusing specifically on cell types that are affected during disease, the team hopes to increase the specificity and safety of existing gene therapy applications, and to open up new treatment avenues.

Triple success

The three ERC PoC awarded to VIB principal investigators represent a 100% success rate for this year’s ERC PoC applications by VIB. This exceptional result illustrates VIB’s commitment to actively pursue the potential societal and economic impact of its research. 

Lieve Ongena (Senior Science Policy Manager and Head of the International Grant Office at VIB): “This outstanding result is exactly what we aim to achieve at VIB: to perform cutting-edge basic research and translate it into positive social impact.”