Back UPF receives four grants in the 2023 call for ERC Consolidator Grants, which will help reinforce cutting-edge research
UPF receives four grants in the 2023 call for ERC Consolidator Grants, which will help reinforce cutting-edge research
The four researchers who were selected are Marc Güell and Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos, from UPF; Ruben Durante, from the National University of Singapore (on leave of absence from UPF); and Stanisa Raspopovic (ETH Zurich). Pompeu Fabra is (alongside the CSIC) the institution that has benefited the most, having been awarded one-third of all grants earned by research institutions in Catalonia.
The results of the most recent call for European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grants, part of the European Commission’s Horizon Europe programme, were made public on 23 November.
Pompeu Fabra University consolidated its strong results in calls for these prestigious European research grants, lending it a leading position among universities and research centres in Catalonia and Spain.
The University received four grants, for projects led by Marc Güell (Department of Medicine and Life Sciences at UPF); Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos (Department of Political and Social Sciences at UPF); Ruben Durante, currently linked to the National University of Singapore (NUS) and ICREA research professor at UPF (on leave of absence); and Stanisa Raspopovic (ETH Zurich).
The projects, which have a duration of five years and will receive funding of close to two million euros, will enable the researchers to reinforce their research and their independent research team
Of the 23 Consolidator Grants awarded to universities and research centres in Spain, the highest number went to UPF, with four, the same number as the CSIC. Within Catalonia, UPF earned one third of the twelve grants associated with the region’s research institutions.
The projects, which have a duration of five years and will receive funding of close to two million euros, will enable the researchers to reinforce their research and their independent research team, helping them establish themselves as leaders in their respective fields.
The over 300 selected researchers will develop their projects in 22 EU states
2,130 applicants from numerous fields of knowledge took part in the 2023 call for applications, with a total funding amount of 627 million euros, of which the ERC selected 308. The grant recipients will carry out their projects at universities and research centres in 22 EU Member States and other countries associated with Horizon Europe. Among EU countries, the higher number of grants correspond to Germany (66), the Netherlands (36), France (23) and Spain (23).
The researchers selected in the 2023 call for applications included representatives from 43 countries, particularly Germany (56), Italy (36) and the Netherlands. In terms of gender, it should be noted that, for the third consecutive year, there was a significant increase in the number of women (119 grant recipients), in addition to 188 men and 1 non-binary person.
Four groundbreaking projects led by brilliant researchers
Marc Güell is a professor and the director of the Translational Synthetic Biology Research Group in the Department of Medicine and Life Sciences (MELIS) at UPF. He will lead the SCRIBE project (RNA-based gene writing in human cells) with a view to generating RNA technology-based strategies to modify the genetic code in human cells.
Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos, a Beatriu de Pinós postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Political and Social Sciences’ JHU-UPF Public Policy Center at UPF, is currently performing research at Arizona State University’s College of Global Futures (USA). With the DIVERSE project (Digitalisation for biocultural diversity and environmental justice), she aims to theorise a new digital transformation model based on transformative grassroots initiatives that seek to improve social and environmental matters.
Ruben Durante is an ICREA research professor in the Department of Economics and Business (on leave of absence) and currently linked to the National University of Singapore (Asia). With the POLARIZE project (Political polarization: causes, consequences and solutions), he will analyse the connection between political polarisation and technological and social forces.
Stanisa Raspopovic, currently at ETH Zurich (Switzerland), is expected to join the Department of Information and Communication Technologies (DTIC) at UPF in the early stages of next year. With his project DiabetManager (Revolutionizing diabetes management by combining in silico models and AI control for vagus neuroprostheses), he will develop innovative models for regulating glucose metabolism.
Rewriting human DNA using new RNA-based strategies
The aim of the SCRIBE project, headed by Marc Güell, is to create a single molecular strategy for writing large genomic regions through a new RNA-based paradigm.
SCRIBE will combine the precision of CRISPR technology with the capacity of retrotransposons – regions of RNA that self-replicate in different genomic locations – to “write” genes based on an RNA mould. In this sense, the “search” function will be based on CRISPR technology and the “copy and paste” function, on the retrotransposons.
With this strategy, the project aims to hurdle two current obstacles: editing large regions of the genome and doing so safely to ensure that editions may also be applied in human cells.
“While the editing technologies developed recently have been highly significant, they are not universal, as a new therapy is required for each mutation. Precision writing enables us to speak in terms of universal therapies, with a greater safety margin than with the viruses used at present,” explains Marc Güell.
Creating a strategy for theorising a new digital transformation model
The DIVERSE project, led by Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos, proposes an empirical strategy on various levels (from expert interviews and the compilation of databases around the world, to case studies and biographical interviews on different continents) to theorise a new digital transformation model.
The research is based on the question: Does the digital divide deprive movements in favour of environmental justice and biocultural diversity of the benefits of digitalisation? In fact, several reports show that grassroots leaders use different forms of digital technologies (e.g. monitoring forests with drones or local digital media), aware of their potential in reconfiguring adverse material conditions and relationships.
According to Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos, “data justice and data sovereignty movements continue to grow. A grassroots digital transformation, in which people are deploying digital media creatively against all odds, is perhaps blazing a trail not simply toward a fair and diverse future, but also toward an alternative digitalisation model that, today, is extremely necessary.”
Investigating the technological and social determinants of political polarisation
The POLARIZE project, directed by Ruben Durante, will analyse the technological and social determinants of political polarisation and their broader consequences for society and explore possible ways to mitigate this problem.
Political polarisation has been on the rise in numerous countries in recent decades, with animosity among parties now extending to what were previously non-partisan issues. It is an alarming phenomenon, as it undermines social cohesion, fuels misgivings in institutions and violence against external groups and may even lead to conspiracy theories.
Nonetheless, the causes of political polarisation and the role of the Internet remain largely unexplored and few solutions have been put forward. “My results will provide a unified framework for understanding the complex technological and social forces behind political polarisation and developing specific political recommendations on how to mitigate it,” confirmed Ruben Durante.
Innovative models for regulating the mechanism of glucose
With the project DiabetManage, Stanisa Raspopovic is seeking to develop innovative models, based on nervous system stimulation, for regulating the metabolism of glucose, a key mechanism in treating diabetes. This disease is a major global health issue bordering on pandemic, which causes long-term health problems due to the improper regulation of glucose in the blood.
More specifically, Stanisa Raspopovic will analyse the functioning of the vagus nerve, a nerve which runs through a number of the body’s organs, including the pancreas, which controls glucose. According to the findings of several preliminary studies, the electrical stimulation of this nerve could modulate the metabolism of glucose; a field in which extensive research must still be performed, and on which this project is focused.
“By improving our knowledge of how the vagus nerve functions, we want to generate the first neural prosthesis (a chip implanted in the brain) to stimulate it. That would enable us to regulate glucose levels in diabetics on a case by case basis,” concludes the researcher. The neural prosthesis, which will first be tested in animals before trials are conducted on humans, will use artificial intelligence-generated models.