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ERC grantees at LMU



Two new names join the list of ERC grantees at LMU

Source: LMU Munich - Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München


Professor Dirk Trauner (Chair of Chemical Biology and Genetics) has just received an Advanced Investigator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). An ERC Advanced Grant also goes to Professor Christian Weber (Director of the Institute for Prophylaxis and Epidemiology of Cardiovascular Diseases and Chair of Preventive Vascular Medicine), who has recently joined the staff of LMU Munich University Hospital. Weber’s ERC project begins in January 2011. The generously endowed ERC Advanced Grants are intended to give European researchers who have already produced outstanding work the freedom to undertake imaginative and unconventional new projects.


Dirk Trauner’s Project Millions of people worldwide are born blind or will become blind at some later point in their lives. The most common cause of blindness is the loss of the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells in the eye. However, the cells that would normally respond to signals from the photoreceptors often remain viable, and attempts are being made to restore sight by stimulating these cells directly, using microchips implanted in the retina. Dirk Trauner intends to invest his ERC grant (worth 2.5 million Euros) in the development of a new ”photopharmacological“ approach.


”We want to couple various types of molecular switches to natural receptor proteins. For instance, by adding a light-sensitive switch, one can produce hybrid photoreceptors that are capable of making neurons responsive to light – a feat that has already been achieved in animal models,” explains Trauner. Before this strategy can be tested in humans, however, significant improvements in the photophysical properties of the hybrid molecules will be necessary, and detailed characterizations of their behaviour in the new environment must be carried out. “If our approach is successful, it could be used to restore vision in persons suffering from certain types of blindness,” says Trauner. “But the same strategy could also be utilized to treat other neurological conditions, such as chronic pain syndromes and epilepsy.“


Professor Dirk Trauner was born in 1967 in Linz, Austria. He studied Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Vienna and Chemistry at the Free University of Berlin, obtaining his PhD in Vienna in 1997. After a stint as a postdoc at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, he moved to the University of California in Berkeley, where he was appointed an Associate Professor in the year 2000. He has worked since 2008 at LMU Munich, where he holds the Chair of Chemical Biology and Genetics. He has received several awards for his contributions to research, including a Novartis Young Investigator Award and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship.


Christian Weber’s Project Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in Western societies. The most common cause is atherosclerosis, popularly known as ”hardening of the arteries.“ Indeed, the medical term refers to the progressive thickening of the walls of the arteries due to the accumulation of fatty deposits or “plaques”. This results in chronic inflammation that exacerbates plaque growth, ultimately leading to obstruction of bloodflow, which can trigger heart attacks and strokes. Professor Christian Weber was the first to show that a molecular complex formed by two small signal proteins, called chemokines, regulates the migration of immune cells into the inflamed tissue and so facilitates the growth of atherosclerotic plaques.


In his “Atheroprotect“ project, for which the ERC will provide some 2.5 million Euros, Professor Weber plans to analyse further the biological significance of such interactions between chemokines for the fine tuning of the inflammation process in mice. He also hopes to develop new strategies to prevent or reverse the formation of chemokine complexes – once again using the mouse as a model. “The development of specific inhibitors of chemokine action could provide new opportunities for targeted therapy of the obstructive lesions in the vasculature“, says Weber. “This would provide a entirely new basis for the treatment of atherosclerosis, but also of other inflammatory conditions such as multiple sclerosis.“


Professor Christian Weber (b. 1967) studied medicine at LMU, obtaining his MD degree in 1994. He went on to do research at Harvard University in Boston (USA) and completed his Habilitation at LMU, before taking up a professorship in Maastricht (Netherlands). In 2005 he was appointed Chairman and Director of the Institute of Molecular Cardiovascular Research (IMCAR) at the RWTH in Aachen. He was named Director of the Institute for Prophylaxis and Epidemiology of Cardiovascular Diseases at LMU Munich University Hospital in November 2010. Weber has received several prizes for his research work, among them an Outstanding Achievement Award from the European Society of Cardiology and the Galen of Pergamon Prize.


ERC Advanced Investigator Grants

ERC Advanced Investigator Grants are designed to support highly innovative research, which has the potential to extend significantly the frontiers of existing fields and pioneer the investigation of new areas. Projects are assessed solely on the basis of the scientific stature of their authors and the originality and quality of the proposed research program.