ERC awards will support genetics and immunology research

Posted on: 14 December 2017

Two scientists from Trinity — Professor in Genetics, Aoife McLysaght, and Dr David Finlay, an Ussher Assistant Professor specialising in immunometabolism — have won prestigious European Research Commission (ERC) Consolidator Grants worth a combined total of €3.8 million to pursue cutting-edge research projects.

Professor McLysaght will seek to better understand the relationship between gene duplication and gene expression, with a view to exploring how this relationship affects gene and genome evolution, and how it impacts disease.

The ERC funding will enable Professor McLysaght to hire four PhD students and three postdoctoral researchers to support the research.

The Consolidator Award is Professor McLysaght's second ERC award, following on from a Starter Award.

Professor McLysaght said: “Duplicate genes are important in disease and are a hugely important source of evolutionary novelty. For many years we thought we understood them, but accumulating evidence is suggesting otherwise.”

"With this project we will test a new idea about what happens when a gene gets duplicated and how that can lead to disease or, instead, become a new addition to our set of genes thus permitting the evolution of novel functions. This approach presents a common avenue for understanding many diverse human conditions."

In recent years, scientists have demonstrated that cellular metabolism appears to be crucial in controlling immune responses; regulation of the response is acutely sensitive to nutrients that fuel important metabolic pathways and support nutrient-sensitive signaling pathways.

Some of Dr David Finlay’s prior work has indicated – in vitro — that these process-driving nutrients are not equally available to all immune cells.

What he now hopes to do is demonstrate how local distributions of nutrients such as glucose, glutamine and leucine affect the immune response in vivo in mice.

Dr Finlay's ERC funding will help to support three team members, two postdoctoral researchers and one PhD student to help pursue this research.

Dr Finlay said:  “We are developing new tools to allow us to study nutrient distribution at the single cell level in vivo, something that is not currently possible. If we can conclusively demonstrate that the availability of these nutrients is a key mechanism for controlling CD8 T cell immune responses, it would be a paradigm-shifting discovery that would open new horizons for the study of nutrient-regulated immune responses.”

ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers of any nationality and age, with at least seven and up to 12 years of experience after PhD, and a scientific track record showing great promise. Funding is provided for up to five years and mostly covers the employment of researchers and other staff to consolidate the grantees' teams. 

Professor McLysaght and Dr Finlay’s awards account for two of the five won by scientists at Irish institutions this year.

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