University of Jyväskylä

ERC Proof of Concept Grants to professor Marja Tiirola

The European Research Council supports researchers to implement innovative ideas generated in the course of a previously funded ERC project. The professor in environmental microbiology Marja Tiirola from University of Jyväskylä has received such an award.

Proof of Concept grants (150 000 €), can be used for example, to explore business opportunities, prepare patent applications or verify the practical viability of scientific concepts. The grant scheme is only open to ERC grantees. They can apply for funding in one of the three rounds of the call every year. The results of this first round of 2018, in which the ERC evaluated 114 applications. Professor Marja Tiirola was the one of the fifty ERC grant holders who receive top-up funding, via Proof of Concept Grants, to explore the commercial or societal potential of the results of their ERC-funded frontier research. The grants are part of the EU research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

Painless biopsies for better patient care

Prof. Marja Tiirola is an environmental microbiologist by trade. As an ERC Consolidator grantee, she has spent her career screening microbes in the environment to understand their role in the process of climate change. To do so, the researcher, with her team based at the University of Jyväskylä, has developed ground-breaking new protocols with the need to analyse millions of molecules and microbes carrying those molecules quickly and effectively.

- Sequencing methods have largely replaced microbial cultivation, which is a slow and costly process. Our discovery enables a second dimensions for the sequencing, so that we can determine the properties and physiology of microbes without cultivating them, says Tiirola.

Contributing to cancer care

Now, the applications of her work will allow the development of better diagnostic tools for cancer patients, based on the detection of genetic biomarkers in the blood. This will provide doctors with the opportunity of screening the patients at point of care, reducing the waiting times and pain when monitoring the cancer therapy. Dr. Tiirola has recently received an ERC Proof of Concept grant to be able to develop and commercialise this technology to be readily available for hospitals and health care centres.

- Microbiomes and cancer cells are analogous research targets. Here we have an example how strong research in one field can lead to innovations in another sector. I am really glad that I have found a meaningful question that is relevant for the society, and where my excellent multidisciplinary research team can contribute, tells Tiirola.

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