UCD Researcher Awarded ERC Proof-of-Concept Funding for Parkinson’s Disease Project

Dublin, Ireland, 25 July 2019, A University College Dublin (UCD) researcher, Professor Madeleine Lowery, is among 62 European Research Council (ERC) grant holders who have today been awarded an ERC Proof-of-Concept or ‘top-up’ grant of €150,000 to explore the commercial or societal potential of their ERC-funded frontier research results.

Professor Lowery’s research in the UCD School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering is focused on using engineering methods to model the brain, nerves and muscles to improve technology which is used to treat motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease.

In 2015 Professor Lowery was awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant of €2 million, over 5-years, for a research project focused on deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

While DBS has emerged as an effective treatment for the symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD) over the last 25-years, the mechanisms of DBS are not yet fully understood.

Current DBS systems operate in an 'open-loop' configuration with stimulus parameters (amplitude, pulse duration and frequency) empirically set and remaining fixed over time. Patients can however experience side effects and poor control of symptoms associated with suboptimal programming of stimulus parameters. 

A ‘closed-loop’ DBS system offers an alternative approach that has the potential to overcome current limitations and increase therapeutic efficacy while reducing side-effects by automatically adjusting stimulation parameters as required.

Through her ERC-funded project, Professor Lowery and her research team have developed biophysically detailed computational models of the neural circuits in the brain during DBS and are using these to develop and test novel algorithms for closed-loop DBS.

Professor Lowery, UCD School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering said, “We are delighted to have been awarded proof-of-concept funding by the ERC. While the potential benefits of closed-loop DBS are widely recognised these systems have not yet been clinically implemented as feasibility must first to be demonstrated. The funding announced today will enable us commence pre-clinical testing of the closed-loop system we are developing and evaluate commercialisation strategies.”

PoC grants can be used in various ways, such as exploring business opportunities, preparing patent applications or verifying the practical viability of scientific concepts.

This latest round of grants, totaling €9.3 million in funding, includes the 1000th project, (based in the University of Alcalá, Spain), to receive PoC funding since the scheme commenced in 2011.

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said, “Europe excels in turning money into great science, but still has to improve its ability to turn excellent science into money and benefits to society. For the past eight years, ERC Proof of Concept grants have helped top researchers progress in the world of entrepreneurship. I believe the new European Innovation Council will also be able to assist them in their endeavors.”

The new grants were awarded to researchers working in 15 countries: Austria (1), Belgium (3), Denmark (2), Finland (2), France (6), Germany (4), Greece (2), Ireland (2), Israel (3), Italy (9), Netherlands (8), Romania (1), Spain (4), Switzerland (5) and the UK (10).