Two ERC Proof of Concept grants for science scientists

Physicist Wim Ubachs and neuroscientist Matthijs Verhage have been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Proof of Concept grant. With this research grant of 150,000 euros they can explore the commercial or societal potential of their research results.

07/30/2020 | 2:45 PM

Early detection of diseases in dairy cows
Physicists Wim Ubachs and Edcel Salumbides received the grant for their research project ‘BREATHSENS: Breath analysis sensor for disease detection in the dairy industry’. Dairy products account for some 5% of the global food intake, an important dietary component in the global challenge of feeding the increasing human population that is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050. To attain peak productivity and efficiency, the health and well-being of each dairy cow is of paramount importance.

The aim of this ERC PoC project of Salumbides is to develop a non-invasive and automated breath sensor, so that illness in individual cows can be detected well before clinical symptoms manifest. The technology is derived from the extremely sensitive and ultra-high spectral resolution cavity-enhanced spectroscopic methods developed in fundamental investigations on molecular hydrogen, which was funded by Ubachs’ ERC Advanced Grant (2015).

The first target for BREATHSENS will be ketosis, which is a common metabolic deficiency that leads to estimated losses of more than €1.9 billion per year for the EU dairy farming industry. The continuous monitoring and early illness detection would enable timely and tailored feed adjustments by farmers to prevent or alleviate disease progression. This novel and unique method will not only reduce economic costs and minimize environmental emissions, but will help ensure a better quality of life for the farm animals.

Effective drug development assay for brain disorders
Neuroscientist Matthijs Verhage received a ERC PoC grant for the research project "Drug discovery screening using human neurons". Together with Claudia Persoon, neuroscientist at the Amsterdam UMC, he developed the HumanNeuronScreen. This drug development assay uses human nerve cells derived from patient skin cells to maximally approach the situation in the patient's brain and thereby significantly improve the validation of new drugs and treatments.

In the European Union, nearly 180 million people have brain disorders and this costs health care about 800 billion euros a year. Approximately 30% of all currently prescribed drugs target so-called G-protein coupled receptors, which are usually activated by neuromodulators. These are signalling molecules that are released by most neurons and regulate many processes in our brain and body. Dysregulation of this release of neuromodulators has been strongly associated with many brain disorders, but there is currently no screening test for neuromodulator release in the drug development industry available.

The HumanNeuronScreen provides in-depth insights about the brain, including about the release of neuromodulators, and about the potential of new treatment methods. This results in a higher success rate in clinical trials. Therefore, this technology could drastically reduce drug development costs for pharmaceutical and biotech companies. With this ERC PoC project, Claudia Persoon and Matthijs Verhage will take all steps to make this new technology available to the drug development industry.

In total, the ERC awarded 8.25 million euros on PoC grants to 55 scientists from eleven different countries. Seven of the 55 grants are for Dutch scientists.


Image: Matthijs Verhage and Claudia Persoon