The two neurobiologists Professor Gary Lewin (MDC) and Professor Thomas Jentsch (MDC/Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie, FMP) will each receive an ERC Advanced Grant worth 2.5 million euros; the two junior research group leaders Professor Michael Gotthardt and Dr. Jan-Erik Siemens (both MDC) have each been awarded an ERC Starting Grant endowed with 1.5 million euros. The were selected from several thousand applicants. The ERC grants are for a period of five years and will begin in 2012.
Professor Lewin studies the African naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber), one of the most unusual mammals on earth. It lives under extreme conditions and can not feel certain kinds of pain. With the aid of the ERC Advanced Grant, Professor Lewin wants to identify the genes that make this animal so unique.
The research activities of Professor Jentsch focus on ion transport and its significance for the function of cells and the whole organism. With the ERC Advanced Grant, the physicist and physician will study ion channels that regulate the internal milieu and volume of cells and their internal compartments. These channels play an important role in the pathogenesis of diseases of the nervous system and other organs.
Professor Gotthardt, a physician and cardiovascular researcher, studies the association between inherited heart and skeletal muscle disease and titin, the largest known human protein. It forms an elastic scaffold in the heart and skeletal muscle and expands like a spring. Recently he discovered a factor which modifies titin in the pathogenesis of cardiac diseases. Using the funds from the ERC Starting Grant, he wants to study the suitability of this factor for developing an approach to improve cardiac function.
Dr. Jan-Erik Siemens, a biochemist and neurobiologist, studies how mammals regulate their core body temperature. He wants to find out which cells in the brain, in the hypothalamus, form the “thermostat” that keeps the core body temperature constant at 37 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, using funds from the ERC Starting Grant, he seeks to elucidate how the body’s own temperature sensors, the nerve endings of the skin, detect the ambient temperature and convert this into neural signals that are perceived as “hot” and “cold”.
Prior to this award, the two ERC Starting Grant recipients received the Sofja Kovalevskaja Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation – Professor Gotthardt in 2002 and Dr. Siemens in 2008. It enabled them to return to Germany from the U.S. and establish and build up their research groups at the MDC.
Altogether eight top researchers at the MDC have been awarded one of the highly endowed ERC grants. Besides Professor Lewin, Professor Jentsch, Professor Gotthardt and Dr. Siemens they are Dr. Francesca Spagnoli (2009), Dr. Matthew N. Poy (2010), Dr. James Poulet and Prof. Klaus Rajewsky (both 2011).Barbara Bachtler
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