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7.3 Million Euros for Freiburg Researchers

European Research Council Awards ERC Starting Grants for Innovative Projects

Freiburg, Aug 31, 2011

Marta Artal Sanz, Thomas Brox, Winfried Römer, Oliver Schilling, and Maxim Zaitsev from the University of Freiburg have been selected for one of the most prestigious European grants for young researchers: The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded them a total of 7.3 million euros in ERC Starting Grants for new projects. The Rector of the University of Freiburg, Prof. Dr. Hans-Jochen Schiewer, was delighted to hear of this favorable result: “This funding illustrates our success in appointing outstanding researchers from all over Europe and providing them with excellent conditions for conducting research.“

The grantees and their projects are:

Dr. Marta Artal Sanz from the Institute of Biology III, Department of Bioinformatics and Molecular Genetics, will receive a 1.42 million euro ERC Starting Grant to conduct research on mitochondrial dysfunctions.
The biologist is studying the molecular and environmental causes of aging in the roundworm C. elegans, which have a bearing on some of the most common diseases in humans. The main focus of her research is the mitochondria, the power plants of the cells, whose dysfunction can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer. The goal of her research is to understand the signaling processes between mitochondria and other cell components that govern aging processes.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Brox, Department of Computer Science, Chair in Pattern Recognition and Image Processing, member of the Cluster of Excellence BIOSS (Centre for Biological Signalling Studies), will receive an ERC Starting Grant worth a total of 1.46 million euros to develop a learning process enabling computers to understand images automatically.
Teaching a computer to describe what can be seen in a picture is a difficult task. The reason for this lies in the great variation of image data collected by cameras. When viewed from different perspectives and in different lighting, the same dog can lead to different raw data. Humans learn that all of this data has the same meaning. The goal is thus to develop a similar learning process for the computer. This step toward an automatic understanding of images is crucial for computers designed to make decisions on the basis of images, such as computers in cars that automatically pull on the brakes as soon as a child runs out into the street.

Junior Professor Dr. Winfried Römer from the Cluster of Excellence BIOSS will receive an ERC Starting Grant worth 1.44 million euros for his research project on the cellular intake of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that is dangerous for humans.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common hospital germ in Germany with multiple resistance to antibiotics. The human pathogen can cause cystic fibrosis, infections of the urinary tract, intestinal diseases, or infections in burns, among other things. The goal of the researchers is to decipher the signaling processes and transportation paths of this bacterium and develop new therapies to counter the infections caused by it.

Dr. Oliver Schilling, Institute of Molecular Medicine and Cell Research, Member of the SGBM (Spemann Graduate School of Biology and Medicine), will receive a 1.5 million euro ERC Starting Grant for a research project which aims to improve our understanding of the function of proteolytic enzymes in molecular processes.
Schilling is studying proteases in his research project, enzymes that function as molecular scissors, breaking down other proteins and often radically changing their functions. The development of new techniques will enable the function of proteases in cells and tissue to be studied in detail. Proteases play an important role in the development of tumors and the degeneration of nerve cells.

Dr. Maxim Zaitsev, Radiological Clinic, Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Medical Physics, will receive a 1.5 million euro ERC Starting Grant für his project on spatial encoding for magnetic resonance imaging. 
The goal of the research project, titled "RANDEmri – Rapid Adaptice Nonlinear Gradient Encoding for Magnetic Resonance Imaging", is to develop a new type of spatial encoding for magnetic resonance imaging instruments which will improve the flexibility and precision of medical examinations.


Dr. Marta Artal Sanz
Institute of Biology III – Bioinformatics and Molecular Genetics
Phone: 0761/203-8365

Prof. Dr. Thomas Brox
Department of Computer Science
Phone: 0761/203-8261

Junior Professor Dr. Winfried Römer
BIOSS – Centre for Biological Signalling Studies
Phone: 0761/203-97240

Dr. Oliver Schilling
Institute of Molecular Medicine and Cell Research
Phone: 0761/203-9615