Four Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships
During the spring of 2018, Nora Lenkey, Kinga Gawel, Eva Cunha and Malte Bieler, our four new individual Marie-Curie fellows, began their work at the MED Faculty.
Kinga, Malte and Nora were on the job already in March. Eva (inset) joined them just before summer. Photo: Gunnar F. Lothe, UiO
A Marie Curie Individual Fellowship can be compared to a mini-ERC. It is difficult to qualify, and only the best succeed in getting one. The scholarships are organized as postdoc projects to assist young scientists in further developing their skills and gaining varied experience through travel and work abroad.
Well-established scholars help the younger scientists
A successful application needs the support of a reputable and well-established researcher who then becomes the young scientist’s host. Koen Vervaeke is seen standing behind Nora Lenkey and Malte Bieler, both of whom have come to Norway to work in his group Laboratory for Neural Computation. Vervaeke’s group also has a third applicant on the waiting list, who earned a very high score; moreover, they actually received a Marie Curie scholar last year as well, Anna Chambers. This is quite exceptional! Kinga Aurelia Gawel is a postdoctoral fellow in Camila Esguerra’s group at NCMM and Eva Cunha in Hartmut Luecke’s Group, also at NCMM. All four have been awarded two-year research fellowships.
The Faculty administration are very pleased that we have received so many postdocs awarded Marie-Curie scholarships. There is keen competition to get these funds, and usually with a low success rate. This means that the grants are a true stamp of quality for the academic environments to which the candidates have applied and of course for the candidates themselves. The Faculty had phenomenal success with their applications in 2017 and had four successful applications out of a total of six. This should encourage even more academic environments to apply this year.
Dean of Research Hilde I. Nebb has done much precisely to promote younger scientists' careers. In addition to the individual Marie-Curie candidates, the faculty also has its EU- funded postdoctoral programme, Scientia Fellows, in which the participants hold the status of Marie Curie candidates.
Our 2018 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships
Project: Structural studies of the full-length human Vitamin C transporters using Cryo-EM
– This project aims at studying the function of Vitamin C transporters, key for normal metabolism of all mammalian cells, which plays a critical role in cellular redox balance and as a cofactor in a variety of enzymatic pathways. The deregulation of Vitamin C levels has been associated with several human diseases, however, despite its importance, the atomic-level mechanism of how Vitamin C crosses the membrane remains unknown.
– Furthermore, the structural basis for the functional differences between transporter types is unknown. Using a multidisciplinary approach, including the recently revolutionized cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM) method, we will elucidate the mechanism of Sodium-dependent Vitamin C Transporters (SVCT) and determine structural differences between different transporter subtypes, as well as structural details of their interactions with Vitamin C.
– Over the last three years, remarkable progress has been achieved in the field of Cryo-EM, substantially increasing the signal-to-noise ratio, resulting in structure determination at near-atomic resolution. I therefore believe that now is the perfect time to invest into and develop the field of Cryo-EM targeting important scientific problems that affect society at large.
Kinga Aurelia Gawel
Project: GEMZ – Genetic Epilepsy Models in Zebrafish.
– Epilepsy is a devastating neurological disease which affects approximately 1% of people worldwide. 30% of these sufferers are resistant to the drugs currently available. Thanks to the development of genetic-based techniques, we now know that at least some of the phenotypes of the disease, previously called "idiopathic", have a genetic background.
– Rare mutations, found in different channels, are responsible for different types of epilepsy symptoms, ranging from mild to severe epileptic encephalopathy. My project aims to generate new models of epilepsy in zebrafish, with a focus on specific channel mutations. We will characterize these models and describe how known mutations affect the phenotype of the zebrafish model, and the type of seizures detected. We believe that this process will help us to identify new therapeutic options for the patients suffering from this rare mutation.
Project: Network representations of contextual memory in a neocortical circuit
– How are memories formed in the brain and how do we remember them? Despite decades of memory research, these are still unanswered questions. According to the classical model of memory formation, memories that initially depend on the hippocampus mature over time, and become increasingly dependent on distributed networks in the neocortex for storage and recall. While there has been great progress in understanding the molecular and genetic substrates of memory, how memories are represented by neuronal ensembles is still poorly understood.
– The advent of two-photon microscopy and new activity indicators, which enable simultaneous monitoring of thousands of neurons, has created new opportunities to investigate these questions. To address how the neocortex supports memory formation and recall using the above mentioned techniques, I will examine a region called the retrosplenial cortex (RSC). I hypothesize that RSC is an important hub to mediate a dialogue between hippocampus and neocortex for memory processes. The results of this project will address how memories are formed and recalled, and could provide important insights into what goes wrong during age- and disease related impairments of memory.
Project: What is the role of the axonal connections between the hemispheres in sensory processing?
– While it is well known that in humans, each brain hemisphere has functional specializations, we have little mechanistic understanding of how neuronal circuits communicate across the largest commissural tract, the corpus callosum, which connects the two cerebral hemispheres. Moreover, the role of these callosal axons, and the information they convey is highly debated.
– There are two main hypotheses: One suggests that callosal axons have mainly an inhibitory action in the other hemisphere, while the other suggests that the effect is excitatory. Importantly, this century-old debate among cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists remains to be tested. Here I hypothesize that these views are most likely too simplified. Instead, I propose that the actions of these axons are rather complex, causing sequences of excitation and inhibition. Moreover, I propose that it may be more relevant to study what information is conveyed by the callosal axons.
– To test this, I will use two-photon microscopy and calcium indicators to study the effects of callosal input on the somatosensory cortex of mice that are trained to perform a tactile discrimination task. The combination of state-of-the-art microscopy, novel viral methods and mouse behavior makes this project very timely.
– I will monitor the activity of thousands of neurons in a specialized part of the rodent somatosensory cortex, called the barrel cortex, while head-fixed mice perform a whisker-dependent object localization task under the microscope. This high spatial resolution technique also allows monitoring directly the activity of callosal axons.
– Finally, I will use optogenetics to inhibit callosal input specifically and measure how this influences cortical circuits and behavior. My findings will provide for the first time a mechanistic understanding of the role of the connections between our hemispheres and provide a framework for understanding diseases that affect the corpus callosum.
- Funding opportunities: The 2018 Marie S. Curie call for Individual Fellowships. Deadline was September 12, 2018 and is now passed.
- Koen Vervaeke group: Laboratory for Neural Computation – Our lab studies how the brain turns sensory information into perceptions. The physical stimuli reaching our eyes and ears are very complex, yet our perception of the outer world appears rather simple. To understand how we are able to interact with the physical world so efficiently, we study the fundamental principles by which brain circuits operate.
- Esguerra Group – Dr. Esguerra´s research team is focused on exploring the fundamental mechanisms underlying brain function in health and disease.
- Luecke Group - The Luecke Group aims to better understand the structure and function of integral membrane proteins. We also aim to identify and develop more effective drugs through research into how diseases like cancer develop and proliferate.
- Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA)