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New €2.8m project will seek insights into aging from pre-term births

  • University of Warwick research to investigate whether many age-related conditions are determined for us before we are born
  • Project received funding from European Research Council of 2,803,123 euros
  • In another ERC-funded project, physicists from Warwick will use NMR to study how the architecture of plant fibres changed over millions of years of evolution

Professor Dieter Wolke of the Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School.New research at the University of Warwick will investigate whether many of the physical and psychological effects of aging are already determined for us by the time we are born thanks to new funding of 2,803,123 euros.

The European Research Council today announced the winners of its 2021 Advanced Grants competition. The funding, worth in total €624.6 million, will go to 253 leading researchers across Europe. Their work is set to provide new insights into many subjects, such as using mathematics to find better ways to use antibiotics and chemotherapy, how to protect the biodiversity of islands, exploring the Cosmic Dawn, and understanding how language sounds change over time.

ERC Advanced Grants are designed to support excellent scientists and scholars in any field at the career stage when they are already established research leaders, with a recognised track record of research achievements.

The PRETERM-LIFECOURSE project has received €2,803,123 in funding from the European Research Council, while physicists from Warwick will be involved in the EVOCATE project led by the University of Cambridge.

Many studies of ageing start when we have already lived more than half of our lives, at 50 years or older. By that time, we may have missed ways of intervening to decrease age-related morbidity.

The PRETERM-LIFECOURSE project, led by Professor Dieter Wolke, will study whether age related function, disease and the time we may die is already determined in the womb and at birth. To test whether the speed of development is altered and has trade-offs such as early ageing, they will study babies born very preterm (more than 8 weeks early) who the team have followed from birth and have now reached middle age.

Professor Dieter Wolke, from the Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, said: “Most importantly, I want to determine the social factors that protect against premature ageing. Does fitness at birth and resulting reproductive success partly explain why men, on average, age faster than women? To test alternative developmental and evolutionary models, in the next five years I will investigate the environment, brains, genes and functional outcomes by collecting new data and working with data across Europe and the world.

“Winning the ERC-Advanced Grant for my project PRETERM-LIFECOURSE is a dream come true. The funding will allow me to utilize and continue the follow-up of preterm children in the last 35 years to investigate pertinent questions of ageing and how social environment may slow it. I look forward to recruiting outstanding young researchers to my team and provide them with a platform to excel in interdisciplinary developmental research.”

Fruitful collaboration

Plant fibres in timber, crops and food help us to live healthily and sustainably. The EVOCATE European Research Council Advanced Grant will support the continuation of the very fruitful collaboration between Professor Ray Dupree of the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick and his son Professor Paul Dupree of the Department of Biochemistry at University of Cambridge, who has been awarded the grant.

Working together over the last few years using solid state NMR, they have made significant advances in the understanding of the molecular architecture of plants. The ERC EVOCATE project will enable the Cambridge and Warwick teams to study how the architecture of plant fibres changed over millions of years of evolution and to further develop solid state NMR for this research.

President of the ERC Prof. Maria Leptin commented: “Congratulations to the new grant winners in the latest round of ERC Advanced Grants! By following their scientific curiosity, these senior researchers are pushing the frontiers of our knowledge in a wide range of fields. It’s essential to fund this type of cutting-edge research to keep Europe at the scientific forefront.”

Lists of researchers selected for funding

26 April 2022

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Peter Thorley

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