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report Micro, Nano & Materials
(img: University of Basel)

(img: University of Basel)

01.04.2019

European Research Council awards funding to University of Basel scientists

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded funding totaling around 5 million Swiss francs to two University of Basel scientists, Ernst Meyer and Alex Schier, via its ERC Advanced Grants. Schier’s research team has just published a study on genes connected with schizophrenia.

According to a press release by the University of Basel, ERC Advanced Grants are among the "most prestigious and coveted grants in basic research”. Only 10% of application submissions are successful. Professors Ernst Meyer and Alex Schier belong to this exclusive club and will receive funding totaling around 5 million Swiss francs for their five-year projects.

Meyer, a physicist, wants to widen the application of atomic force microscopes. So far they have been used to map atomic details and manipulate nanostructures. Professor Ernst Meyer wants to continue developing this technology so that it can be used to observe and understand the mechanisms of energy dissipation – the conversion of energy into heat. To this end, Meyer, professor of experimental physics at the University of Basel and board member at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute (SNI), would like to develop an innovative measuring probe that will specifically make it possible to study two-dimensional materials like graphene. The focus is also on gaining new insights into electrical migration and thermal diffusion on an atomic scale – two phenomena that can significantly influence the functionality of electronic components. Meyer will carry out his project in partnership with the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati in Trieste (Italy) and will receive ERC funding of around 2 million francs.

Alex Schier is a professor of cellular and developmental biology at the Biozentrum, University of Basel, and its Director. His project, which has received funding of around 2.7 million francs, aims to understand the logic governing cell differentiation. The specific biography of a cell affects the cell type into which a cell develops. With two new technologies Schier can make it possible to reconstruct each stage in the lineage of thousands of cells for the first time. Schier, who also leads a research group at Harvard University in Cambridge (USA), would like to base his project on the zebrafish model to help develop a comprehensive overview of cell development in vertebrates.

Schier’s research group has also just published a study in the magazine Cell. He identified 30 genes associated with schizophrenia and investigated 132 genes in total. Based on zebrafish, the potential connection to schizophrenia was confirmed for 30 genes. Schier’s team has proved that “errors in these genes impair the development or function of the brain and lead to behavioral abnormalities”. “The question of how the individual genes trigger schizophrenia remains open,” says Schier in a press release. “It would be possible to investigate whether the genes we identified change similar brain regions in patients as in zebrafish.” These genes and brain regions could then become new targets for drug therapies, according to the university. 

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