Portugal life scientist awarded ERC's Advanced Investigator Grant

Zachary Mainen, coordinator of the Champalimaud Foundation Neuroscience Programme at the IGC, has become one of the most recent winners of the prestigious and highly competitive European Research Council grants, to the value of 2.3 million euro, for a period of five years. This grant, which recognises Mainen's contribution to the Neuroscience field, will be used to elucidate the biological role of the neurotransmitter serotonin. The ERC is the most prominent European organism supporting scientific research. Zachary Mainen, north-american, has published over 30 studies in leading scientific journals. In 2007 he left the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory for the Neuroscience Programme and is now living in Portugal.

Zachary Mainen and his group propose to shed light on one of the most enigmatic topics in Neuroscience - the exact role of serotonin in controlling vital behaviours such as eating, sleeping or breathing, and associated psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, depression, migraine or eating disorders.

According to Mainen, " Anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac increase levels of serotonin in the brain, but little is known about what causes the brain to release its own serotonin or exactly how it affects the functioning of the nervous system. We are developing novel tools that will allow us to make definitive tests of serotonin function and gain insight into how this very important neurotransmitter actually functions in the brain. Ultimately, our studies may have clinical applications, as they may contribute to more effective drugs for behavioural disorders or ultimately to more advanced genetic therapies.'

The tools the team of scientists is developing, based on genetics, optical imaging and electrophysiology (recording the electrical activity of nerve cells), are a valuable resource for the entire scientific community, across the world.

The Advanced Investigator Grant which Zachary Mainen has just received is awarded to senior researchers, and is aimed at encouraging and supporting innovative and ground-breaking projects, on the basis of scientific excellence alone, in any field of research. In this second edition of these grants, a total of 512 applications were received, from across Europe. This grant is the first awarded to a senior life scientist working in Portugal.

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