Trinity researchers secure prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant awards

Posted on: 31 January 2023

Drs Sarah Doyle and Marius de Leeuw have been successful in the latest round of results, which have been released today. They will explore how we can harness our immune system to fight blindness and seek models that could help us understand and explore uncharted sub-fields of physics.

Trinity researchers secure prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant awards

Awarded annually to exceptional individuals to help build research teams and conduct pioneering research across all disciplines, these awards, worth up to €2 million, are highly competitive.

Provost Linda Doyle said: 

“I extend warm congratulations to Sarah and Marius on this fantastic achievement.

“The ERC Consolidator Grant allows significant time and resources to be devoted to exploring research questions more deeply. 

“It is noteworthy that these two researchers have already been supported by national funding agencies, through the IRC Laureate programme and SFI-URF fellowships. This highlights the essential role of national investment in supporting high-potential research.

“We wish Sarah and Marius our warmest congratulations and look forward to following the progress of their projects in the coming years.”

Wolfgang Schmitt, Dean of Research, said:

“I am delighted to congratulate Sarah and Marius on their success in the ERC Consolidator competition. The scheme is increasingly competitive every year and it takes real dedication to pushing the boundaries of research to be successful. ERC awardees often spend years beforehand developing their novel ideas, building preliminary data, and cultivating strong collaborations before they ever put pen to paper to write the grant application. It is a really significant undertaking and the funding is well deserved by the two awardees.

Trinity’s winners

Sarah Doyle, NK-InSight: Exploring Natural Immunity in Retinal Neovascular Disease

Sarah, from Trinity’s School of Medicine, is also a PI in the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience (TCIN). Her project, NK-Insight, aims to explore how we can harness our immune system to fight blindness.

Dr Sarah Doyle in a black and white dress standing on the steps of the Exam Hall in Trinity

Traditionally, blocking the immune system has been used to treat inflammatory diseases.  However, our immune system has evolved to allow us to fight disease and more recently, amazing clinical advances have allowed scientists to harness the immune system activating it to treat and cure some types of cancer.

This ERC award will allow Sarah and her team to study a particular type of immune cell which is understudied in the retina but has major potential to heal diseased blood vessels in the eye, with the hope that the research will one day lead to the development of new treatment strategies for the wet form of Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and for Diabetic retinopathy (DR).

Dr Sarah Doyle said: 

“I’m so excited to have been awarded this ERC funding. It gives me an amazing opportunity to recruit the most talented PhD students and Post-doctoral researchers to work on a project that my lab and I have been building towards for the last few years. I’m especially grateful for the support of friends, colleagues, and collaborators who contributed to brainstorming sessions when I was forming the ideas for this research avenue, and to Trinity’s research office for their very practical assistance.

“I’d also like to acknowledge how important the previous funding support of our national agencies, SFI, IRC, HRB, and charities Fighting Blindness Ireland and BrightFocus Foundation have been for this achievement.  Each and every previously funded project provided a critical stepping stone to securing this prestigious ERC consolidator award and I am immensely grateful. I look forward to getting started on this important work and hope that one day our research will lead to the development of novel immuno-therapies for patients living with wet AMD and DR.”

Marius de Leeuw, Finding All Integrable Models

Via his project, Finding All Integrable Models, Marius aims to find and classify integrable models, which not only have interesting mathematical structures but which also closely describe real physical phenomena such as magnetism and planetary motion.

Dr Marius de Leeuw in a green jacket with the sea in the background.

Marius, from the Hamilton Mathematics Institute in Trinity’s School of Mathematics, is especially interested in integrable models that describe quantum systems. Recently, integrable models have appeared in String Theory and the search for quantum gravity. Because not all integrable models are known, those which describe areas of physics that are currently inaccessible via available techniques would be especially useful.

And because integrable models are found in a wide range of physical systems describing diverse phenomena, new models uncovered using the novel approach could be relevant for a range of different fields – with the possibility to better understand, for example, other areas such as superconductivity and exotic materials.

Dr Marius de Leeuw said: 

“I was very excited when I found out I was awarded the ERC consolidator grant. It is the largest grant in my field and offers the opportunity to take on high-risk, high-reward ideas. As a researcher at Trinity, I have worked hard to build a group with my Royal Society fellowship, which has supported me for the past five years. With this new grant I can grow my research group and fully develop my approach for finding integrable models and push my field in new directions.”

Trinity researchers have been participating in the Horizon Europe funding programme across our three Faculties, and in the first year of the new format had already secured funding in the novel Missions programme and across all six of the ‘Global Challenges’: Health; Culture, Creativity and Inclusive Society; Civil Security for Society; Digital, Industry and Space; Climate, Energy and Mobility; Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment.

This is testament to the breadth of research excellence at Trinity as well as the strength of its international multi-sectoral collaborations, and the dedication of its researchers to tackling complex global problems.

The Horizon Europe programme has also provided record funding to Trinity researchers to explore the “innovation potential” of their emerging findings, with a total of eight ERC Proof of Concept awards since the start of the programme, and awards across the spectrum of European Innovation Council Pathfinder, Transition and Accelerator schemes. 

Sarah and Marius’ success comes hot on the heels of last week’s news that Drs Sarah McCormack and David Finlay had secured ERC Proof of Concept awards.

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