Young Research Talents Receive International Recognition – University of Copenhagen

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20 August 2018

Young Research Talents Receive International Recognition

ERC Starting Grant

Two SUND researchers have received the much-coveted ERC Starting Grant, which represents a pat on the back and a significant career boost. The recipients are Associate Professor Troels Scheel and Assistant Professor Timothy Lynagh, who will use the grants to do research on virus infections and neurotransmitters.

The European Research Council (ERC) has just released the names of the lucky researchers who, as recipients of the much-coveted ERC Starting Grant of 1.5 million euro, over the next five years can establish a research group focussing on a ground-breaking research idea. At SUND, two talented young researchers can now look forward to strengthening their research groups with the help of the grant.

Research Will Map the Role of RNA During Virus Infections
Associate Professor Troels Scheel at the Department of Immunology and Microbiology and his research group focus on virus infections. In contrast to bacteria, viruses are dependent on the cells they infect, and it is therefore important to understand the interaction between virus and host cell. The research group focusses on the molecular mechanisms in particular and are especially interested in RNA, as many viruses contain genes from RNA, not DNA. Further, RNA based therapy is a promising new field.

Supported by a 2016 Starting Grant from the Danish Council for Independent Research, Troels Scheel has established a research group comprising three postdocs, three students and a laboratory technician. So far, the group has primarily worked on micro-RNA interactions during virus infections. The new grant now enables the group to expand with more postdocs and PhD students focussing on different types of virus-host cell interactions. The researchers will also be studying a series of different viruses, including hepatitis, yellow fever, Zika, tick-borne encephalitis, chikungunya and poliovirus.

‘Of course, getting an ERC Starting Grant is amazing and a good occasion to open a bottle of champagne. The application process is long and included interviews in Brussels, so it was great to learn that my efforts were fruitful. I am also proud that the ERC considers the combination of my background, my ideas and the environment and research group at the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at SUND and the Department of Infectious Diseases at Hvidovre Hospital, to which I am affiliated, to be among the best in Europe’, Troels Scheel says.

Focus on Neurotransmitter Receptors and their Evolutionary Background
Assistant Professor Timothy Lynagh’s lab will be based in the Department of Neuroscience. He does research into receptors to understand how they evolved, how they work, and how we can manipulate them with medicine when the nervous system does not work properly.

Our thoughts, senses and movements depend on rapid signalling between cells in the nervous system. This process is to a large extent mediated by proteins in the cell membrane, which recognise the transmitters released by neighbouring cells. The transmitter glutamate is of vital importance to neural activity, and the new grant will be used to map the relationship between glutamate and the nervous system and the underlying molecular mechanisms. The researchers also hope in the process to discover hitherto unknown chemical details in receptors, which may pave the way for drugs targeting these receptors in the brain.

‘I was thrilled! The ERC Starting Grant allows me to dive right into a technically and intellectually challenging project without having to worry about funding for a couple of years. Modern science is dominated – and to an extent ruined – by the continuous need to explain itself. The ERC Starting Grant banks on researchers with proven ability to knuckle down and come up with new knowledge’, Timothy Lynagh says.

A total of eight researchers from UCPH have received an ERC Starting Grant this year, almost beating the university’s record also of eight Starting Grants from 2014. In fact, UCPH also received a ninth Starting Grant this year, but the recipient has since left for a foreign university, taking the grant with him.

Contact:
Associate professor Troels Scheel, E-mail: tscheel@sund.ku.dk, phone: 25 12 27 71, Twitter
Assistant professor Timothy Lynagh, E-mail: tpl@sund.ku.dk, phone:  53 38 43 93