Individual grant worth 2.5 million euros will finance the development of cutting-edge work in the field of bioengineering of human tissues and advanced biomaterials.
João F. Mano, CICECO's Researcher and full professor at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Aveiro, has been awarded, for the second time in a row, with one of the most prestigious grants a researcher can aspire in Europe. It is a 2.5 million euros Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC-AdG), with the project entitled REBORN: Full human-based multi-scale constructs with jammed regenerative pockets for bone engineering.
These individual grants are awarded after the application in extremely competitive calls, in which the unique evaluation criterion is the scientific excellence. The assessment includes the analysis of the scientific track record of the researcher, which must be at the top level of researchers working in Europe, as well as the quality of the project to be carried out, its degree of risk and the radically innovative approach adopted in the proposed work programme. Despite the high quality of the applications that were received from the most eminent scientists in Europe, the success rate of the grants funded this year was less than 10%. This advanced grant was the only one, among the 185 approved, awarded to a Portuguese researcher or to a researcher working in Portugal.
A notable and rare achievement was that this advanced grant was the second that João F. Mano managed to see funded, the first of which is still in progress. Additionally, an ERC proof-of-concept grant (ERC-PoC) had already been awarded in 2018. ERC-PoC grants support activities in the initial stage of transforming results obtained by researchers with ERC scholarships into proposals with commercial potential, capable of achieving economic or social benefits.
The ERC-AdG grant will allow, for 5 years, to develop cutting-edge work in the field of bioengineering of human tissues and advanced biomaterials, namely in the creation of strategies for the regeneration of bone tissue, which may have a clinical impact in cases of massive loss or extensive bone fractures. One of the innovations of the project is the use of proteins obtained from tissues collected during childbirth, normally disposable, namely the amniotic membrane and the umbilical cord. These will serve as a basis for the construction of highly hierarchical devices, from the nano-scale to the macro-scale, with a high capacity to generate mineralized bone tissue and promote its vascularization. From these perinatal tissues it will be also possible to collect and use cells that will play a fundamental role in the construction of tissues in vitro. The cells will be encapsulated into small artificial “placentas” that will provide appropriate biochemical and mechanical signals and will promote the formation of functional micro-tissues in a completely autonomous manner. The agglomeration of these “regenerative pockets” in a controlled spatial way will allow the development of three-dimensional tissues at the scale-length of real bone defects, with high geometric precision.
In addition to direct therapeutic applications involving implantation, these innovative devices may also serve as models of diseases with dimensions and specifications similar to those of real tissues, in order to test new drugs and therapies; those can be seen as an alternative solution to animal tests or clinical trials.
João Mano is internationally recognized by his work related with the development of biomaterials and proposals of new technologies for a variety of biomedical applications, in particular to be employed in Regenerative Medicine. He is the director of one of the most active research groups in Europe in the area of biomaterials and bioengineering of human tissues, the COMPASS Research Group: more information about the group's activity can be found in http://compass.web.ua.pt/.
João Mano feels “extremely honored with this extraordinary recognition, and for the support that all members of the group have given to raise the scientific level of the work that has been developed” and also states that “With this grant, we will reinforce our capability to combine high-level basic research with radically innovative therapeutic solutions that may have an impact on the quality of life of patients”.
Four ERC grants within CICECO
In addition to this advanced grant, 3 other grants had already been awarded to researchers from CICECO at the University of Aveiro from the 2019 applications: two Consolidator Grants (ERC-CoG) and one proof-of-concept (ERC-PoC).