June 18, 2015

Four "ERC Advanced Grants" awarded to FMI group leaders

Andreas Lüthi, Botond Roska, Dirk Schübeler and Nicolas Thomä, leading scientists at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, will each receive one of the prestigious ERC Advanced Grants from the European Research Council (ERC). These research grants are awarded in a highly competitive selection process featuring the best scientists across Europe. Each of these FMI research team leaders will receive around EUR 2.5 million over the next five years.

Established top researchers
"ERC Advanced Grants" are awarded to established top researchers in Europe to enable fore-front research in all areas of scientific endeavor. In the past, around 280 European researchers have received funding, with a success rate of approximately 12% per call. The awardees this year include four from the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel.

Andreas Lüthi is an expert in the field of learning processes in the brain. In particular, his work has provided us with a substantially better understanding of the type of brain activity that occurs when we learn to be afraid of something. As part of the ERC project, he now wants to expand on this work and investigate whether the same brain structures are involved in learning about both negative and positive experiences, as well as to what extent "negative" and "positive" neuronal networks interact.
» More on Andreas Lüthi

Botond Roska holds an interest in the processes that take place in the retina and in the brain, enabling us to see. His work on Retinitis Pigmentosa – a hereditary disease which inevitably leads to adult-onset blindness – has received a great deal of attention. Working together with his research group, he has developed a gene therapy method that can restore the ability of blind mice to see, and now works to adapt this so that it can also be used in human patients. He wants to use the ERC grant to further investigate how the signals generated by the retina are interpreted in the visual thalamus inside the brain.
» More on Botond Roska

Over the last 10 years, Dirk Schübeler’s research has contributed to our understanding of how epigenetic modifications of DNA and changes to chromatin structure influence the activity of genes. As part of the ERC project, his team will explore in detail how transcription factors, which are key regulators of genes, interact with these modifications and structural changes.
» More on Dirk Schübeler

Nicolas Thomä is a structural biologist who has studied the structure and function of large protein machines. The focus of his work has been to understand how mutations impact the workings of these assemblies in disease, and how small molecule therapeutics can redirect the function of these proteins. As part of the ERC project, he now wants to combine X-ray crystallography with electron microscopy to shed light on the structure of the COP9 signalosome together with its ligands. This work will provide insight into how the many subunits that comprise these large biological assemblies act together to target and fine-tune the activity of these crucial cellular machines.
» More on Nicolas Thomä

Expanding on past successes
The success rate for FMI researchers is impressive: Since the launch of the ERC program, a total of 12 grants have been awarded to FMI researchers at different stages of their career. "For a small institute such as the FMI, this is extraordinary and an impressive example of the exceptionally high-quality research carried out in our institute," said Susan Gasser, FMI Director. "It shows the extent to which FMI is respected in the global research community."

Full participation in the future, too
As a result of the acceptance of the anti-immigration initiative last year, the participation of Swiss researchers in this research program was temporarily suspended. Switzerland finally concluded a partial association agreement with the EU in fall 2014, enabling Swiss researchers to once again participate in the EU research program Horizon 2020. Nevertheless, there remains a sense of uncertainty surrounding the future. The EU has made Switzerland's participation after 2016 dependent on whether a solution is found to ensure the free movement of persons.

"It is crucial, both for researchers in Switzerland and for the competitiveness of Switzerland as a research location, that we continue to be able to apply for these prestigious ERC Grants," explained Gasser. "These grants not only provide financial support to our research and research infrastructure, but they are an excellent means to challenge and harness the innovative strength of our scientists. They help us network with researchers throughout Europe and make a significant contribution to the excellent reputation of Swiss research. This can only remain the case if Switzerland is able to participate in the Horizon 2020 research program as a fully associated partner beyond 2016."

Prof. Susan Gasser,, Tel. +41 61 697 50 25
Prof. Andreas Lüthi,, Tel. +41 61 697 82 71
Prof. Botond Roska,, Tel. +41 61 697 85 75
Prof. Dirk Schübeler,, Tel. +41 61 697 82 69
Dr. Nicolas Thomä,, Tel. +41 61 697 86 30

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