Slovenian researcher Jernej Ule wins ERC grant

Ljubljana, 28 March - Slovenian London-based researcher Jernej Ule has won a EUR 2.4m advanced grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for a project hosted by the National Institute of Chemistry that will study interactions between molecules in the brain and how they affect development of neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS.

Chemistry Institute director Gregor Anderluh, addressing reporters in Ljubljana on Thursday, said that of the more than 2,050 applications for the ERC Advanced Grant 2018 call only 11% had been selected for financing, which showed how important Ule's achievement was.

With the help of the ERC grant, Ule will form a new research group at the Institute of Chemistry in Ljubljana including between six and eight researchers from the Department of Molecular Biology and Nanobiotechnology. Part of the project will be conducted at University College London (UCL).

The five-year project, called RNP Dynamics, will study how regulation of RNA molecules contributes to brain development and functioning, and how errors in the regulation lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Ule, a molecular neuroscience professor at UCL, said in a video call.

The project will also look into how errors in contacts between proteins and RNA damage neurone functioning and trigger ALS. This will serve as a basis for development of new strategies to cure the disease by means of RNA molecules.

According to Anderluh, the research project will allow them to develop therapies for ALS and help them understand better what triggers the disease. "I'm confident that the results of the project will provide the basis for development of medications and strategies for the disease's treatment in the future."

The Ljubljana institute researchers will be involved mainly in the field of structural biochemistry and structural chemistry, thus contributing to the understanding of the structure and interactions between molecules and in the field of computer modelling of processes in molecules and the human body.

Ule's is the eighth ERC project to be developed in a research organisation in Slovenia and the fifth project in the scheme for established researchers. It is the second Slovenian ERC project at the National Institute of Chemistry after Roman Jerala's MaCChines project last year.

Anderluh said that the institute planned to modernise research equipment within the National NMR Centre and acquire a new cryo-electron microscope, which would be unique in the region. On its launch, the institute will host a scientific conference featuring Nobel Prize winner Joachim Frank.