Deep learning algorithms to diagnose back pain, artificial enzymes for energy conversion facilities and a Covid-19 drug: the European Research Council (ERC) has announced funding for projects at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in the form of two Consolidator Grants and one Proof of Concept Grant. The ERC Grants are among the most prestigious research awards in Europe.

Researchers at TUM have procured a total of 154 highly respected ERC Grants to date. They are awarded annually in several categories. Consolidator Grants are provided to researchers with between seven and 12 years’ experience since completion of a doctorate. The selected projects will receive up to 2 million euros in funding. Proof of Concept Grants are awarded to scientists who wish to explore the potential of their ERC research projects to generate marketable innovations. The latest successful grant applicants at TUM:

Consolidator Grants:

Prof. Dr. Jan Kirschke (Department of Medicine)

Chronic back pain imposes enormous suffering on patients worldwide and is a frequent cause of disabilities. The causes of back pain are diverse and often difficult to distinguish. They extend from biomedical factors to inflammation to neurological and psychological influences. How can these causes be studied in greater detail at the individual level? In his iBack-epic project, Prof. Jan Kirschke will apply new image analysis techniques to images of patients’ spinal columns from two major epidemiological studies. For that purpose, he will develop and use biomechanical modelling and deep learning algorithms for fully automated analysis of certain parameters. The goal of the research is to gain a more detailed understanding of biomechanical and inflammation-related causes of back pain in order to develop better preventive strategies.

Jan Kirschke is a professor of neuroradiology.

Prof. Dr. Nicolas Plumeré (TUM Campus Straubing for Biotechnology and Sustainability)

Prof. Nicolas Plumeré
Prof. Nicolas Plumeré

Image: Jan Winter / TUM

To address global climate and energy issues, the world will need efficient, robust and scalable catalysts to convert energy from renewable sources. Nature has developed extremely active catalysts: enzymes for the conversion of small molecules that play a big role in energy conversion. However, these enzymes cannot withstand the extreme operating conditions of fuel cells and electrolyzers. Effective approaches to the improvement of enzymes have generally been limited to natural amino acids and biological conditions. In the E-VOLUTION project, Prof. Nicolas Plumeré will attempt to use artificial amino acids to produce artificial enzymes that will remain stable even under extreme conditions. The goal is to develop highly active catalysts capable of maintaining the conditions for large-scale energy conversion facilities. This could accelerate the development of economically competitive uses of renewable energy sources for fuel and chemical production.

Nicolas Plumeré is a professor of electrobiotechnology.

Proof-of-Concept Grant:

Prof. Dr. Andreas Pichlmair (Department of Medicine)

Prof. Andreas Pichlmair
Prof. Andreas Pichlmair

Image: Magdalena Jooss / TUM

The compromised immunity some time after vaccinations and the variations of SARS-CoV-2 are impeding efforts to bring the pandemic under control. In addition, Covid-19 patients often suffer from long-term effects such as lung fibrosis. It is therefore necessary to develop antiviral treatments that target the virus while improving lung tissue repair. Prof. Andreas Pichlmair and his team have demonstrated the efficacy of the drug DZNep against SARS-CoV-2 in preclinical models and shown that it suppresses virus growth and promotes the regeneration of lung tissue. The drug thus represents a promising approach to the development of a treatment for Covid-19 that could also improve lung function after a Covid-19 infection. The MeTIC project aims to prepare for the transition to clinical studies.

Andreas Pichlmair is a professor of immunopathology and viral infection. In 2018 he was awarded a Consolidator Grant to study the interactions of proteins with the antiviral immune system.

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