ERC Advanced Grant for Research on Early-Life Infections
The physician and RWTH researcher Professor Mathias Hornef, Director of the Department of Medical Microbiology at Uniklinik RWTH Aachen, has been awarded an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC), worth 2.5 million euros, for a funding period of five years. The funds of the award will largely be used to research the role of intestinal infections in early childhood and to identify mechanisms of disease susceptibility in later life through differentiation and functional changes in the intestinal epithelium.
Gastrointestinal tract infections continue to be a major cause of childhood mortality and morbidity worldwide. It is unclear why, particularly in developing countries, some infections increase children's risk of long-term health effects such as reduced growth and impaired intellectual development. After birth, the intestine of a newborn is colonized by bacteria that originate primarily from the mother and from the environment. After a few months, these bacteria establish a stable intestinal microbiome.
This contributes significantly to the formation of a mature immune system. At the same time, the intestinal tissue undergoes developmental biological changes during the neonatal period, which prepare the intestinal mucosa for the special tasks during bacterial colonization but also during the transition from breast milk to solid foods. Infections of the intestine with pathogenic microorganisms and the stimulation of host defenses have a wide range of impacts on the development of the intestinal microbiome, but also on intestinal tissue and immune maturation.
The intestinal epithelium is composed of a variety of different cell types with different functions that form a dynamic barrier between host tissue and intestinal lumen. The postnatal development of the heterogeneity and functional specialization of the epithelial cells and the influence of intestinal infections on this process are still poorly understood.
With this research project, Mathias Hornef wants to investigate the influence of intestinal infections in newborns on the differentiation and function of the intestinal epithelium in more detail. Innovative, multiscale technical approaches and analytical methods will be further developed and applied in combination with novel preclinical models to analyze and explain the importance of infant infections with bacterial, viral and parasitic pathogens for the further development of the child and its susceptibility to immunological, metabolic, and inflammatory diseases.
These innovative analytical methods are applied in close collaboration with colleagues at RWTH and with partners in Germany and abroad.
ERC Advanced Grants
ERC Advanced Grants are intended to support the very best research to be conducted in EU member states and associated countries. They are to allow exceptional, established leaders in research to pursue ground-breaking high-risk projects that open new directions in their respective research fields and blur the boundary between basic and applied research.