ERC Proof of Concept Grant for two SUND researchers – University of Copenhagen

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24 May 2017

ERC Proof of Concept Grant for two SUND researchers


Researchers from SUND receive the prestigious ERC Proof of Concept Grant for the first time. ERC awards a total of two grants to Associate Professor Zach Gerhart-Hines and Professor Ali Salanti. The funding must be used to conduct research into a new drug and for clinical trials in cancer patients.

Research into new drugs and testing of new methods for predicting the development of cancer are the reason why SUND researchers for the first time ever receive the coveted ERC Proof of Concept Grant (ERC PoC). The funding, which is granted to researchers who have already received an ERC grant, must be used to establish proof of concept of ideas that have been generated in the course of the research project. ERC emphasises that the funding must cover activities which can turn research outputs into commercial or socially valuable products.

The two SUND researchers who receive the ERC PoC is Associate Professor Zach Gerhart-Hines from the Center for Basic Metabolic Research and Professor Ali Salanti from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.

Fighting fire with fire: activating fat to burn fat

Associate Professor Zach Gerhart-Hines conducts research into brown fat metabolism. In contrast to white fat, which stores calories, brown fat is a tissue capable of burning calories and reducing blood glucose levels. Therefore, the Gerhart-Hines group seeks ways to exploit this power for therapeutic intervention against obesity and diabetes. One particular focus is the identification of cell surface receptors on brown fat that could be targeted to increase calorie-burning. Recently, the group discovered a novel receptor capable of significantly reducing weight.

“We received the notification about the ERC PoC with a mixture of joy and relief. Joy because we could now begin to develop our drug, and relief because we’re working within strict patenting time constraints and needed the funding in order to proceed on schedule. We will specifically focus on designing more potent, specific activators of this receptor with favourable properties for drug delivery. ” says Associate Professor Zach Gerhart-Hines.

Focus on diagnosing cancer and directing treatment

Professor Ali Salanti’s research group will use the funding to start clinical test of a new cancer diagnostic method.

“We’re pleased that the ERC panel shares our enthusiasm regarding the opportunities offered by the technology. We have previously shown that the VAR2CSA malaria protein binds specifically to most cancer types. We’ve now come up with the idea of binding the malaria protein to magnetic beads and using it as a tool to catch circulating tumour cells from blood samples. If we succeed, it can be used not only to diagnose cancer but also to direct treatment,” says Professor Ali Salanti.

The ERC PoC funding totals EUR 150,000 for a period of 18 months.