Dr. Benedetta Bolognesi from IBEC and Dr. Elena Del Corro from ICN2, both BIST community centres, have been awarded prestigious European ERC Consolidator Grants. The grants support excellent researchers who are consolidating their independent research teams. Recipients receive up to €2 million over 5 years.
Dr. Benedetta Bolognesi, Principal Investigator at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), and Dr. Elena del Corro, Senior Researcher at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), have been awarded ERC Consolidator Grants, one of the most prestigious and competitive sources of funding in the European Union. This research grant, awarded by the European Research Council (ERC), supports excellent scientists and scholars at the career stage where they are consolidating their independent research teams to pursue their most promising scientific ideas.
Dr. Del Corro‘s project “TriboMed” aims to integrate triboelectric energy generators into active implantable medical devices to improve the lives of patients suffering from diseases linked to the activity of the vagus nerve.
Del Corro will design a triboelectric energy generator for this purpose and integrate it into the medical device, so as to make it completely autonomous. In fact, most implants currently make use of bulky batteries, which eventually run out of charge and need to be replaced. TriboMed will focus on developing an implantable and self-powered AIMD for vagus nerve stimulation (VNS).
According to Dr. Del Corro, her new device would increase the acceptance of self-driven neuromodulation therapies, producing a life-changing impact on a very large patient population suffering from several chronic systemic conditions (such as Crohn’s disease, rheumatic arthritis, and obesity).
Meanwhile, Dr. Bolognesi and her team will develop a new method for identifying mutations that lead to the formation of amyloids—aggregates of proteins that contribute to a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Amyloids are proteins that aggregate into fibrils, accumulating in the body without being degraded. Their formation appears to underlie more than 50 human diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and type II diabetes.
In the process of amyloid formation, proteins go through many steps before adopting their final conformation, ultimately leading to the formation of insoluble aggregates. These intermediate states are crucial for understanding the protein’s evolution toward its amyloid structure. However, studying these states is extremely challenging with conventional methods due to their transient nature.
As an alternative to studying this process, Bolognesi and her team have developed a new methodology based on deep mutational scanning. With this approach, thousands of mutations are introduced into protein sequences to study their effects on the aggregation rate in a highly parallel way.
The project seeks to unravel the rules that govern amyloid formation, identify mutations that accelerate aggregation and cause disease, and understand the steps of this process. The results are expected to contribute to the development of new therapeutic approaches for amyloid diseases, including severe dementias. Moreover, the results will be able to feed new models and predictors of protein aggregation to employ for disease variant interpretation and the synthetic design of novel proteins.
Prof. Klaas-Jan Tielrooij, leader of the ICN2 Ultrafast Dynamics in Nanoscale Systems Group and Associate Professor at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), has also been awarded a 2023 ERC Consolidator Grant, which is led by TU/e as the host institution.