Professor Luke O’Neill is awarded prestigious EU ERC Award of €2.5m

Posted on: 28 March 2019

Professor of Biochemistry, and global pioneer in inflammation research, Luke O’Neill has been awarded an EU European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant valued at €2.5 million. These highly prestigious awards allow exceptional researchers to pursue ground-breaking research. Professor O’Neill is one of a select group of senior scientists across Europe who will use these EU funded grants to explore the most daring research ideas.

This is the first time a researcher from Trinity College Dublin has won a second ERC Advanced Grant, the highest accolade among the ERC awards.

Professor O’Neill life’s work is to make discoveries that might lead to new treatments for inflammatory diseases. His ERC-funded programme focuses on the metabolic changes that occur in a key cell associated with inflammation, called the macrophage.

Arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease all have one thing in common: inflammation. Understanding what causes it is crucial to developing new treatments for these chronic illnesses.

It appears that when the macrophage becomes over-activated, as it would in an inflammatory disease such as MS or Arthritis, it burns nutrients in a peculiar way. This leads to the generation of inflammatory factors, which damage tissue and cause the signs and symptoms of inflammation.

Professor O’Neill’s research points to a major shift in our understanding of how intracellular metabolic changes lead to inflammation.

The overall aim of his research project is to elucidate how metabolic reprogramming controls inflammatory macrophage activation, which may lead to new therapeutic targets for inflammatory diseases.

European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas said on the occasion of the awards: The ERC Advanced Grants back outstanding researchers throughout Europe. Their pioneering work has the potential to make a difference in people’s everyday life and deliver solutions to some of our most urgent challenges. The ERC gives these bright minds the possibility to follow their most creative ideas and to play a decisive role in the advancement of all domains of knowledge.

On receiving the award, Professor O’Neill said: “I am delighted to receive this award which is a testament to the work carried out by my research team in Trinity over the past three years which I can now build on in this grant. We are very excited at the prospect of new discoveries that will improve our understanding of inflammatory diseases and which might lead to new treatments.”

Congratulating Professor O’Neill on his success, the Dean of Research, Professor Linda Doyle said: “We are extremely proud of Professor O’Neill’s achievement and would like to congratulate him on this outstanding recognition of his work. ERC Advanced Grants are only awarded to the most exceptional researchers, and give them the freedom to work on their best and most creative ideas for the benefit of science and society. Professor O’Neill’s groundbreaking research in inflammation has already had a significant impact on how we treat some of the major health problems of our time, and this award will support the continuation of that work. It not only recognises the importance of his research, but also builds on Trinity’s strong track record of ERC success which has become a point of reference for excellent frontier research across all disciplines.”

Through the EU research funding programmes FP7 (2007-2013) and Horizon2020 (2014-2020) Trinity researchers have now been awarded 41 ERC Investigator grants, representing €73m in funding.  Under H2020 these ERC Investigator grants have created 155 positions for Postdoctoral Researchers, PhD students and other staff working on the research teams in Trinity.

This latest success by Professor Luke O’Neill means that Trinity  researchers have now secured Advanced ERC grants in all three domains of the H2020 ERC programme, indicating the breadth of research excellence in Trinity: Life Sciences (Luke O’Neill), Physical Sciences and Engineering (Jonathan Coleman), Social Sciences and Humanities (Poul Holm, Rhodri Cusack).

Trinity College Dublin is the leading Irish institution for overall drawdown from the H2020 programme, of which there are many different strands in addition to the ERC. Trinity hosts approximately 50% of all H2020 ERC awards in Ireland.

About the European Research Council

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the first European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. The ERC has three core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants and Advanced Grants across all disciplines and career stages. The ERC awards have been made under the EU research and innovation programme, FP7  followed by  the current  Horizon 2020 programme.

The ERC Programme has been identified as an area of strategic relevance for Trinity (Funding Diversification Plan 2014) and for Ireland (Innovation 2020) and is widely supported by Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Research Council as the most highly regarded source of funding for frontier research.




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