University of Glasgow: UofG Researchers Win ERC Advanced Grants

Two researchers from the University of Glasgow are set to share in €624 million in new funding from the European Research Council.

Professor Samuel Cohn, of the School of Humanities l Sgoil nan Daonnachdan, and Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez, of the James Watt School of Engineering, are among 253 researchers named as winners of the ERC’s 2021 Advanced Grants competition.

ERC Advanced Grants are designed to support excellent scientists and scholars in any field at the career stage when they are already established research leaders, with a recognised track record of research achievements.

Samuel Cohn, Professor of Medieval History, will receive €2.4 million (£2m) for a five-year project, entitled ‘Art and Inequality in the Post-Black Death Century’.

It will combine two fields—inequality studies and art history. With three full-time postdoctoral scholars, the project will work with numerous archives to collect and analyse thousands of commissions for art in public spaces across the Italian peninsula that were initiated by peasants, artisans, and shopkeepers, c. 1280 to 1500.

These have been ignored by art historians and historians alike because the objects have almost totally vanished, mostly purposely destroyed. In addition to recovering a lost world, the project will broaden understanding of the cultural impact of the Black Death from a new quantitative perspective and documentation that stretches across social classes.

Professor Cohn said: “I am honoured to be able to embark on this project. It is a team project. Without a team, I would not have dared to confront the challenges posed by the project. Instead, I would have returned to medical history to write another single-authored monograph.”

Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez, Chair of Biomedical Engineering, will lead a €2.5 million (£2.1m) project called ‘Engineered viscoelasticity in regenerative microenvironments’.

Over the next five years, Professor Salmeron-Sanchez and his team will aim to engineer the next generation of viscoelastic materials, which could be used to regenerate damaged bones.

The project will develop new types of viscoelastic hydrogels to encourage the differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells, or MSCs. MSCs are naturally produced by the human body and have the potential to differentiate into a range of specialised cell types such as bone, cartilage, ligament, tendon and muscle.

The team will engineer a new family of viscoelastic hydrogels with controlled properties that include biochemical functionalities, extreme mechanical properties and mechanical gradients.

They will also use a form of microscopy known as Brillouin microscopy to investigate the evolution of the local viscoelastic properties of these cell-laden materials as a function of time. The passing of time plays a fundamental role in the differentiation of MSCs and hence in the engineering of regenerative biomaterials.

Finally, they will use their new materials to promote bone regeneration in a pre-clinical model, adapting Brillouin microscopy to understand the evolution of local viscoelastic properties as bone regeneration happens.

Professor Salmeron-Sanchez said: “This is an ambitious project with the potential to lead to real breakthroughs in regenerative medicine, and I’m proud that the European Research Council have chosen to support it with this Advanced Grant. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I’m looking forward to meeting the challenge that we have set for ourselves.”

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