RWTH Aachen University: ERC Advanced Grant for research into infections in newborns

The human medicine and RWTH scientist Professor Mathias Hornef, Director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology at the RWTH Aachen University Hospital, has received the Advanced Grant of 2.5 million euros from the European Research Council (ERC) for a funding period of five years. Among other things, he would like to use the money to research the role of early childhood intestinal infections and identify mechanisms of disease sensitivity in later life through differentiation and functional changes in the intestinal epithelium.

Infections of the gastrointestinal tract remain a leading cause of mortality and morbidity in childhood worldwide. It is unclear why some infections, especially in developing countries, increase children’s risk of long-term sequelae such as reduced growth and impaired intellectual development. After birth, the intestine of a newborn is colonized by bacteria, which mainly come from the mother and the environment and finally establish a stable intestinal microbiome after a few months. This contributes significantly to the development of a mature immune system during this time. At the same time, the intestinal tissue is subject to developmental changes during the neonatal period, which prepare the intestinal mucosa for the special tasks during bacterial colonization but also during the change in diet from breast milk to solid food. Infections of the intestine with pathogenic microorganisms and the stimulation of the host’s defenses influence the establishment of the intestinal microbiome, but also intestinal tissue and immune maturation in a variety of ways.

The intestinal epithelium is made up of a large number 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 have so far been little studied. With his research project, Prof. Hornef would like to investigate the influence of intestinal infections in newborns on the differentiation and function of the intestinal epithelium. Innovative, multi-scale technical approaches and analytical methods in combination with novel preclinical models are to be further developed and used to understand the importance of infections in early childhood due to bacterial

The innovative analytical methods are used in close cooperation with colleagues at RWTH Aachen University, but also nationally and internationally.

ERC grants

With its Advanced Grants, the European Research Council (ERC) honors excellent scientists who have established themselves in the research community with outstanding achievements. The prize money is used to promote innovative projects. The ERC “Advanced Grants” funding line is aimed at established top scientists with an outstanding academic record who want to open up new research areas.