ICREA Prof at IRB Barcelona Toni Gabaldón, ICREA Prof at IBEC Giuseppe Battaglia, and ICREA Prof at ICFO Frank Koppens have been awarded European Research Council (ERC) Proof of Concept Grants for 2023. The grants, part of the EU Horizon Europe programme, are worth € 150,000 each and will be used over 18 months to explore the commercial or societal potential of research projects already underway.
The European Research Council, in its efforts to help ERC grant-holders bridge the gap between their research and the earliest stage of a marketable innovation, created the Proof of Concept (PoC) funding scheme for researchers who have already been awarded an ERC grant. The grants are part of the EU’s research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe.
Optimising sequencing and exploring market potential with the MultiSeq project
Sequencing is a technique that allows the order of the components (or nucleotides) of DNA or RNA to be determined. Advances in sequencing approaches in recent years have transformed biology and medicine. Next-generation sequencing (NGS) is currently widely used in a variety of research fields, from the clinical setting to the biotech industry.
Technical breakthroughs have exponentially increased the number of samples that can be sequenced in each operation. However, the preparation of sequencing libraries—a critical step in NGS—has changed very little and continues to be the main limiting factor from the perspective of both cost and time required.
Researchers from IRB Barcelona and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC), led by Dr Toni Gabaldón, have developed a new solution that minimises the cost and time needed to prepare these libraries. Through a combination of computational analysis and small modifications in the laboratory protocol, the MultiSeq project allows for the design of a strategy to sequence multiple samples in parallel (multiplexing), thereby reducing the number of libraries without affecting the quantity or quality of the sequences produced. This technique was developed in the context of an ERC Consolidator project in collaboration with Dr Hrant Hovhannisyan, a postdoctoral researcher at the BSC.
With its new ERC Proof of Concept grant, the research team will now explore the market potential of the MultiSeq technique. Over the next three years, the technique will be tested in different environments, market analyses will be carried out, and marketing options will be evaluated.
“If everything goes as planned, MultiSeq will bring about a major innovation in the field of sequencing by reducing its cost and thus contributing to its general accessibility and benefiting the scientific community and society at large,” says Dr. Gabaldon.
Taking anti-inflammatory nanomedicines from the lab to society at IBEC
IBEC researcher Giuseppe Battaglia has received an ERC Proof of Concept Grant for his project focusing on the development of novel nanomedicines to identify anti-inflammatory therapies. Battaglia leads the Molecular Bionics group at IBEC, and has already received two ERC grants in the past, including a Starting Grant in 2011 and a Consolidator Grant in 2018. The current Proof of Concept grant is awarded for his project “metabolic anti-inflammatory nanomedicines” (MAIN).
Inflammation is a characteristic defensive element of the immune response. However, when it is out of control, it causes serious short- and long-term damage, becoming a pathological feature of several diseases, such as autoimmune disorders, cancer, and neurodegeneration. Therefore, inflammation is one of the most important pharmacological targets.
With the MAIN project, Battaglia and his team propose to design new nanodrugs that act directly on the master regulators of inflammation, thus preventing the novice effects of the out-of-control immune response. These drugs are micelles or vesicles that encapsulate within them molecules that occur naturally in the body and can activate the ability of cells to control inflammation. Specifically, with this drug, they seek to target pro-inflammatory macrophages to reprogramme them with anti-inflammatory action.
Over the project’s 18-month timeline, the team will synthesise different formulations of nanodrugs to study which is the most optimal and will validate them in vitro and in vivo with models of autoimmune disorders including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. These data will be used to file for several patents, in addition to exploring the possibility of creating a start-up company that will allow them to continue working to bring this technology to clinical application.
Development of an optical (infrared) gas sensor demonstrator chip at ICFO
ICREA Prof at ICFO Dr Frank Koppens, leader of the Quantum Nano-Optoelectronics research group, has been awarded his fifth PoC to date, for the project titled POLARSENSE. This project aims to develop an optical (infrared) gas sensor demonstrator chip based on a novel graphene electro-polaritonic platform.
Monitoring gases and particles through the use of smart sensors has a crucial role in a wide range of applications, from environmental control to breath analysis for diagnostics. With the information provided by these sensors, we are able to predict, prevent and act in potentially dangerous situations. In order for the data to be effectively transferred, the gas sensors must be integrated into portable devices with wireless connectivity, and must be miniaturised concurrently. To meet this requirement, the sensors must possess high sensitivity, selectivity, speed, ultra-low power consumption, and compatibility with silicon technology. However, currently no existing technology on the market fulfils all of these criteria.
The optical (infrared) gas sensor demonstrator chip based on a novel graphene electro-polaritonic platform that will be developed in this project is designed to address all of the aforementioned technical and commercial requirements. This will be demonstrated through its functionality and performance, with the capability of detecting multiple gases in a scalable, CMOS-compatible system with a sensitivity of 0.1 ppm, alongside specific optically active elements and an electrical detector all integrated within one single device. The result is a highly compact and efficient sensing platform that does not require an external photodetector. To achieve this, POLARSENSE will simulate, design, and fabricate a demonstrator chip in accordance with the specifications of our industrial partners, and test with a broadband infrared source to evaluate the performance.