ERC Advanced Grants for Hannelore Ehrenreich and Claus Ropers

April 26, 2022

The researchers at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Multidisciplinary Sciences in Göttingen will each receive about 2.5 million euros in funding from the European Research Council (ERC) over the next five years. In this round, 1,735 scientists applied for the highly renowned ERC Advanced Grants; only 253 succeeded in the tough competition for the best research projects.

Using EPO to combat brain diseases

In competitive sports, erythropoietin (EPO) is a notorious doping agent. Yet, the growth factor not only promotes that more red blood cells form. Physician and neuroscientist Hannelore Ehrenreich believes that EPO can also improve brain functions. “When we master mentally challenging tasks, this effort seems to trigger a slight reduction of oxygen in our brain. This physiological lack of oxygen stimulates nerve cells to release EPO. You could call it doping for the brain,” explains Ehrenreich, head of Clinical Neuroscience at the institute.

With her team, she wants to investigate how EPO can promote the growth of nerve cells and prevent them from losing their vital functions. To this end, Ehrenreich’s team first wants to investigate in mice the extent to which EPO is also suitable as a therapy for certain forms of neuropsychiatric disorders, autism, or dementia. “To transfer the results to humans as quickly as possible, we are currently installing a high-altitude training chamber in our research outpatient clinic. There we can expose test subjects to a slight reduction of oxygen similar to high-altitude under controlled conditions,” the physician reports. If the researchers succeed in further deciphering the EPO system in the brain, this will open up new ways to someday treat previously untreatable cognitive dysfunctions. “The Advanced Grant means that our Clinical Neuroscience team will have ample funding for the next five to six years to intensely pursue our research in this area. We have all been enthusiastic about this topic for a long time and are convinced that our findings will one day benefit patients,” says Ehrenreich.

Hannelore Ehrenreich studied human and veterinary medicine at the Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich and the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover. Parallel to her clinical training in neurology and psychiatry at LMU Munich, she went to England and the Philippines for scientific research stays. As a postdoctoral fellow, she worked for three years with Anthony S. Fauci in the Laboratory of Immunoregulation, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bethesda (US). She completed her residency at the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) in 1995. Since then, she has headed Clinical Neuroscience at the City Campus of the Göttingen MPI for Multidisciplinary Sciences and its predecessor institute, the MPI of Experimental Medicine. She is a Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the UMG and a Professor at the Faculty of Biology and Psychology at the University of Göttingen. She also served as Vice President of the University of Göttingen from 2000 to 2002. Ehrenreich has been awarded the Wilhelm Feuerlein Research Prize and the Jean Delay Prize, among others, for her work. Since 2016, she has been a member of the Neuroscience Section of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.


Stop-motion films of atomic and molecular processes on surfaces

The surface of a material governs its chemical and physical properties. It determines, for example, whether a substance has catalytic capabilities or reduces mechanical friction. 

Max Planck Director Claus Ropers and his Department of Ultrafast Dynamics explore the fundamental mechanisms that determine the behavior of solids. To understand how the atoms and electrons of a material interact with each other, these processes must be observed in detail on their natural length and time scales – that is, in millionths of a millimeter and quadrillionths of a second. Despite great progress in the field, however, no one has yet succeeded in directly filming rapid structural changes on surfaces, including chemical reactions, for example.

This is now set to change. With the ERC funding, Ropers’ team wants to use short pulses of low-energy electrons to take snapshots of the momentary state of a surface. Using a specific measuring technique, a dynamical process is started with a laser pulse and recorded after a defined time. The sample then returns to its initial state. If many such recordings are put together with varying intervals between the laser and electron pulses, complex processes can be “filmed” and analyzed in a manner analogous to stop-motion film technology.

“This method will give us completely new insights into the dynamics on surfaces,” says Ropers. “Relevant applications include switching processes in which materials can be transformed from an insulator to a metal by the laser pulse.” Johannes Otto, designated doctoral student for the EU project, adds, “We also hope to gain new insights when imaging molecular vibrations on crystalline surfaces. I am really looking forward to taking the first snapshots of a laser-excited surface.”

Claus Ropers studied physics at the University of Göttingen and the University of California, Berkeley (US) and received his PhD from Humboldt University in Berlin in 2007. He returned to Göttingen in 2008, where he conducted research as an assistant professor and head of the Nano-Optics and Ultrafast Dynamics group. In 2011, the university appointed him as a professor, and from 2013 to 2021, he headed the IV. Physical Institute – Solid State and Nanostructures. The physicist took up his directorship at the Göttingen MPI for Multidisciplinary Sciences (until the end of 2021 MPI for Biophysical Chemistry) in 2020, initially part-time, since 2021 in a full-time capacity. Ropers has received numerous awards for his research, including the Walter Schottky Prize of the German Physical Society, the Klung Wilhelmy Science Award, the Ernst Ruska Prize, and the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation. In 2021, he was elected to the Göttingen Academy of Sciences. (kf/cro)

About the ERC Advanced Grants

The European Commission established the European Research Council in 2007 to fund outstanding scientists with innovative research projects. Since 2008, the ERC has awarded the so-called Advanced Grants to scientists who lead independent groups and can demonstrate at least ten years of excellent research. In this year’s competition for the Advanced Grants, the ERC awarded 624 million euros in funding.

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