Prestigious research grants for seven Flemish academics


KU Leuven leads the way in Flanders on the EU’s prestigious Research Council grants, with four recipients

Fasting and recovery

Seven researchers at Flemish universities have been successful in the latest round of funding from the European Research Council. The grants, typically worth €2.5 million each, are highly sought-after, with only 12% of the applications in the present round selected for funding.

The grants are for well-established, scientifically independent researchers who are recognised as leaders in their fields. Applications are judged solely on their scientific merit.

One of the happy few is Greet Van den Berghe (pictured, right), of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at KU Leuven. This will be her second such ERC grant.

Van den Berghe’s research will examine the relationship between fasting and recovery from serious illness. The idea is that our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors were able to endure illness during long periods of food scarcity because their bodies had developed efficient ways of using stored fats. This meant their essential organs always received enough energy to survive.

For different reasons, patients in intensive care units sometimes develop debilitating brain and muscle conditions, which slow their recovery. Van den Berghe wants to see if it is possible to stimulate the mechanisms associated with fasting to help protect these patients as they recover.

Fighting asthma

Another winner is Bart Lambrecht of the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), part of Ghent University. He will be working on the protein crystals that spontaneously form in the airway tissues of people with asthma.

The conventional wisdom is that these crystals are a by-product of the immune response, but Lambrecht thinks that they might play a more active role, and so open the way for new treatments. “There is still an urgent medical need for novel therapies that could benefit patients with chronic steroid-resistant disease,” he said.

KU Leuven was particularly successful in this round of ERC awards. In addition to Van den Berghe, grants were awarded to Joris De Schutter for his work in robotics, to Sien Moens for research in machine learning and to Johan Suykens for research into data-driven modelling, also his second ERC grant.

Mireille Hildebrandt at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) received an ERC grant to investigate what it means to be a human being in an era of computational law. And Clay Holroyd has funding to investigate how the brain's anterior cingulate cortex works at Ghent University.

Photo courtesy KU Leuven

University of Leuven

Established almost six centuries ago, the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) is one of the oldest universities in the Low Countries. International rankings consistently place it among the best universities in Europe.
Papal founding - It was founded as a Catholic university by Pope Martin V in 1425.
Bright minds - Over the centuries, it attracted famous scholars like Justus Lipsius, Andreas Vesalius, Desiderius Erasmus and Gerard Mercator.
Micro and nano - KU Leuven is home to the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (imec), a world-class research centre in micro- and nanoelectronics.
11 544

staff members in 2013

40 069

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million euros in annual research budget