European Research Council is supporting the journey from basic research to applicationTwo researchers from the University of Bonn have been awarded a Proof of Concept Grant by the European Research Council (ERC) as part of a program designed to help researchers translate their ideas from previous ERC projects into commercial applications. Biologist Bernardo S. Franklin from the University Hospital Bonn and physicist Simon Stellmer will thus each receive ¤150,000 over a period of around one year.
Bernardo S. Franklin from the Institute for Innate Immunity and the ImmunoSensation2 Cluster of Excellence studies hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which develop into different blood cells through processes of cell division and differentiation. "Bouts of inflammation that a person experiences as they get older will damage these stem cells," Bernardo S. Franklin says. "Processes like this cause hyperactivation of the innate immune system in the elderly." This phenomenon, known as "inflammaging," increases the risk of conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, he adds.
"Wiping" the immune system’s harmful memories of inflammation
The project that has now secured ERC funding, which is entitled "Nanobodies to prevent hematopoietic stem cell bias and hyper-inflammation" (UNBIAS), aims to return HSCs to their original state in order to "wipe" the immune system’s harmful memories of inflammation. The researchers are using customized "mini-antibodies" known as nanobodies to achieve this. These antibodies, which are very small in relative terms, are taken from the blood of alpacas and can break up the places where inflammation develops.
Back in 2017, Franklin received a much-sought-after Starting Grant from the ERC worth some ¤1.5 million in funding. The Proof of Concept Grant will now build on this work already done. "Our aim is to validate the use of nanobodies to combat inflammaging and license this technology or its applications for industrial partners," Franklin says. He believes that the project has the potential to alleviate the effects of inflammation and thus potentially save countless lives and the economic cost of illness.
Developing precise spinning sensors to measure the Earth’s rotation
Together with his team, Simon Stellmer from the Institute of Physics at the University of Bonn is studying how measuring devices that are already unbelievably accurate can keep on being improved and refined. In the "GyroRevolution" ERC project, for which they have now secured funding, they want to develop gyroscopes - spinning sensors that are extremely precise. Specifically, gyroscopes are lasers with a ring-shaped trajectory that can be used to measure rotation. Geodesists use them to record the rotation of the Earth and detect earthquakes, for example. Even very tiny and extremely slow movements of structures or the soil can also be measured.
Stellmer and his team used technologies borrowed from quantum physics to develop their gyroscopes. High-stability lasers, optic resonators, frequency combs: originally developed for optical atomic clocks, the researchers’ tools now form the basis for creating improved gyroscopes. The working group is currently exploring several approaches and running several different designs of gyroscope, the largest of which measures 4 m by 4 m’and is installed deep in the bowels of the Institute of Physics.
"We want to build small yet sturdy spinning sensors that can be fitted inside buildings or sunk into holes," says Simon Stellmer, a member of the Matter and Light for Quantum Computing (ML4Q) Cluster of Excellence and the Matter Transdisciplinary Research Area at the University of Bonn. "Earthquakes, climate change, crumbling bridges on the freeway-there are various ways these gyroscopes could be used, all of them highly relevant to society."
Even back when he was working on his ERC Starting Grant project, which secured its funding in 2017, Simon Stellmer was investigating precision measurements of this kind. In this project, he is addressing a very fundamental question: Why does the universe contain matter in the first place? His aim is to answer questions from the world of particle physics using the precision of quantum experiments rather than the high energy of large particle accelerators.
Two Proof of Concept proposals accepted
"We’re delighted that not one but two proposals from the University of Bonn for ERC Proof of Concept Grants have been accepted," says Sandra Speer, Head of the enaCom Transfer Center at the University of Bonn. The Transfer team at the Faculty of Medicine helped to submit the proposal to the ERC together with enaCom and Research Funding at the University of Bonn in what proved a highly successful collaboration.