Radboud University: Three ERC Advanced Grants for Radboud researchers

Researchers Ivan Toni of Radboud University and Roshan Cools and Peter Friedl of Radboud University Medical Center have each received an Advanced Grant of the European Research Council (ERC).

The amount varies per grant, but is approximately 2.5 million euros. The researchers can use this funding to continue their research for the next five years.

Ivan Toni, professor of Motor Control, Radboud University and Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
Imagine ordering a drink at a diner, pointing at an empty glass as an attentive waiter passes by. How did you select that particular gesture, and how could the waiter possibly interpret it as you intended? As any other signal we use to communicate daily, that gesture is highly ambiguous outside its context of use. How can human communication work by using referentially flexible and contextually dependent signals? The project ‘Mindsharing’ of Ivan Toni(verwijst naar een andere website) integrates computational, developmental, and cognitive neuroscience to understand how this communication skill is algorithmically defined, culturally acquired and neurally implemented.

Roshan Cools, professor of Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, Radboudumc and Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
Roshan Cools(verwijst naar een andere website) will study substances in the brain that are involved in the cognitive control of behaviour. With her colleagues, she will study how the brain computes when effortful control is required and when it is not, and how we decide when to prioritize which behavioral strategy. In this context they will focus on behavioural control in the context of stressors. The controllability of those stressors is pertinent in those contexts. If a stressor that you face is controllable, then it’s fine to work hard to change the situation. In this case, a proactive, goal-directed strategy is appropriate. But if a stressor is uncontrollable, i.e. unchangeable, then an effortful goal-directed strategy is not a good strategy at all. In that case, it is better to give in to your pre-programmed, hardwired tendencies, that save energy. Cools will thus gain more insight into the brain mechanisms that control the selection of context-appropriate behavioral strategies in the face of stress.

Peter Friedl, Professor of Microscopic Imaging of the Cell, Radboudumc
Peter Friedl(verwijst naar een andere website) is going to develop a new cancer therapy that kills cancer cells by creating multiple damages that in aggregate kill them. Whereas each damage alone will not be deadly, introducing multiple attacks forces the cancer cell to die. Friedl uses advanced microscopy to find the mechanisms by which tumor and immune cells move and to examine how those cells interact in three-dimensional tissue. Recently, we have come to know how moving cytotoxic T cells – CTLs – of the immune system interact with tumor cells and when that doesn’t lead to tumor cell death. In this way, Friedl and colleagues determined the minimum cytotoxic unit that can be delivered to tumor cells by CTLs. They called that minimum dose the “sublethal hit”.

In recent years, immunotherapy combined with cytotoxic and molecular therapies has been increasingly used as a treatment for cancer. Despite improving outcomes, this approach does not work for all patients. This requires a better understanding of the damage therapies cause to tumor cells and the repair responses they bring into play. Friedl is now proposing a different approach based on recording these sublethal blows. He wants to start combining immunotherapy with novel combinations of cancer therapies at ultra-low, sublethal doses.