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University of Warwick chemists awarded £5M in ERC research grants

Matthew Gibson11 December 2014

The University of Warwick’s Faculty of Science has been awarded €5m in research grants by the European Research Council.

The three ERC Starting Grants were awarded to researchers from the University’s Department of Chemistry and will support them in finding new and more effective catalysts for alkane transformations, fight superbugs and investigate how to mimic nature's own cold defence mechanisms – work which could be used to help maintain blood stocks over the Christmas and holiday period.

Set up in 2007 by the EU, the European Research Council (ERC) is the first pan-European funding organisation for frontier research. It aims to stimulate scientific excellence in Europe by encouraging competition for funding between the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age.

Following the latest awards, the Department of Chemistry has in total eight ERC grants, equating to over 20% of full time academic staff.

Pro Vice-Chancellor for Science, Engineering and Medicine, Professor Tim Jones, said of the grants:

“These new ERC grants are a further indication of not only the quality of the research conducted in Warwick’s Department of Chemistry, but also the outstanding talent and dedication of the staff themselves. Following these grants over 20% of the full-time academics in the department are supported by ERC grants, providing Warwick the support to tackle some of the most important issues in Chemistry today”

The Department of Chemistry grants are:

· €1.5m awarded to Dr Matthew Gibson to continue his ambitious research into mimicking the function of antifreeze glycoproteins- AFGPs.

Commenting on his grant, Dr Gibson said “This Award will enable us to investigate how we can mimic nature's own cold defence mechanisms to enable us to store donated cells and tissues more efficiently. We will use polymers (plastics) which can stop ice growing during the cryopreservation process, which is similar to how ice crystals also grow in ice cream which has been left in the freezer too long. This technology has huge potential in modern medicine to improve transplantation availability.”

Dr Gibson’s grant follows his success in winning the Life Sciences category of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s 2014 Emerging Technologies Competition and the Warwick Philanthropy Award for the work that the ERC grant will help to continue.

· €1.99m awarded to Dr Józef Lewandowski to study the structural dynamics of protein complexes by solid-state NMR.

“To effectively fight superbugs, which cannot be treated with the currently available antibiotics, we need to develop new drugs” argues Dr Lewandowski “Our hopes to address this challenge pin on exploiting naturally occurring assembly lines for biologically active but difficult to chemically synthesize molecules. This Award will enable us to study how such natural factories work at the molecular level so that we can reprogram them to produce new antibiotics and other medicines”.

· €1.5m awarded to Dr Adrian Chaplin to develop new methodology for studying the interaction of alkanes with transition metals.

Detailing his research’s aim, Dr Chaplin commented: “As the major components of petroleum and natural gas, alkanes are vast and low-cost raw materials. Motivated by the potential to convert alkanes in more technologically valuable chemicals, we are working to establish the fundamental principles associated with their reactions with transition metals. This knowledge should ultimately allow us to engineer new and more effective catalysts for alkane transformations”.

Commenting on the broad range of possible applications for Dr Gibson’s work, from in vitro scientific research through to stem cell therapies in the clinic, Dr Laura Lane of Warwick Ventures, the University’s technology commercialisation company, said “we are excited by interest in this technology by potential partners and are keen to attract development partners looking for cryopreservation solutions for clinical and life science products”.

The ERC operates according to an 'investigator-driven', or 'bottom-up', approach, allowing researchers to identify new opportunities in any field of research, without thematic priorities. Since 2007, the ERC has funded over 4,000 projects throughout Europe.

10 December 2014

Contact:

Tom Frew, International Press Officer - +44 (0)2476 575 910 a.t.frew@warwick.ac.uk