The research focus of Jan-Michael Peters, scientific director of the IMP, is to elucidate the mechanisms of cell division. Two large EU-projects which he coordinated over the past ten years have shed light on the details of mitosis. The new project which is supported by the ERC-grant will look closely at cohesin, a molecule that plays a key role in the precise timing of cell division. The ring-shaped cohesin complex, that was discovered at the IMP in 1997, ensures that each round of cell division yields two daughter cells with identical sets of chromosomes. Apart from its role as “molecular glue”, cohesin is essential for chromatin structure and gene regulation. Details of the tightly controlled interaction of cohesin and DNA will be uncovered by a combination of biochemistry, microscopy, genetics and cell biology. The results are expected to shed light on the mechanism of diseases associated with cohesin malfunction – such as Down syndrome or certain types of cancer.
Tim Clausen, structural biologist and Senior Scientist at the IMP, is interested in intracellular quality control. His group looks at how bacterial cells deal with misfolded proteins that can accumulate within cells and potentially damage them. Proteins must have a very specific tree-dimensional structure in order to function properly. If cells are exposed to stress, this structure can be corrupted and intracellular processes go awry. All organisms – from bacteria to humans - have therefore evolved a sophisticated protein quality control system by which the cell monitors the functionality of each protein, thus reducing the amount of misfolded molecules that may undergo dangerous interactions. Tim Clausen’s group performs structure-function analyses of bacterial quality control factors with the purpose of disclosing novel strategies to combat protein-folding diseases and bacterial pathogenicity.
Jürgen Knoblich, Senior Scientist and Deputy Director at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, receives the Advanced Grant for the second time. In 2013, Knoblich and his team published a novel 3D culture method that allows scientists to model the early steps of human brain development, starting from human pluripotent stem cells. His new project takes advantage of these cerebral organoids that make it possible to study the development of the human brain directly in human tissue. In the past, brain development was mostly studied in rodents or fish. However, disorders like schizophrenia, epilepsy or autism cannot be sufficiently represented in animal models. The newly funded project will not only allow novel insights into brain development but also add to our understanding of neurological diseases and reveal potential new strategies to treat them.
Advanced Investigator Grants are meant to support the most successful and promising European scientists and to encourage them to tackle ambitious, interdisciplinary projects. The grants are worth 2.5 to 3 Million Euros each and are paid out over a period of five years.
The Vienna Biocenter (VBC) is Vienna‘s largest life science hub and a center of molecular biological research excellence. In addition to six institutions that are dedicated to basic research, 14 companies are currently on location in New Marx. More than 1,400 employees and 700 students make the VBC a hotspot of innovative approaches in the life sciences. In the academic field, the Gregor Mendel Institute (GMI), the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA), the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP), and the Max F. Perutz Laboratories (MFPL) are the flagships of the Vienna Biocenter. The Campus Science Support Facilities (CSF) provide state-of-the-art scientific services.