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Professor Kenneth Dawson receives prestigious ERC Advanced Grant for nanoscale medicines

Posted 3 April, 2023

The European Research Council (ERC) has named (opens in a new window)Professor Kenneth Dawson among the outstanding research leaders it has awarded Advanced Grants for 2023.

Valued at upwards of €2.5 million, the grants are designed to support cutting-edge research in a wide range of fields, from medicine and physics to social sciences and humanities.

Professor Dawson, Chair of Physical Chemistry at UCD School of Chemistry and Director of the Centre for BioNano Interactions (CBNI), was awarded the prestigious funding for his project FunctionalNanoTher - which aims to develop much more efficient vaccines, and other treatments, by leveraging the body’s naturally occurring nanoscale communication network.

Early results suggest that tapping into this network will radically change the effectiveness of nanoscale therapies.

“The ERC Advanced Grant will allow us to push far beyond the boundaries of our current understanding, following new and bolder scientific concepts of RNA (and other nanoscale) therapeutics that will target currently intractable diseases, safely,” said Professor Dawson.

“Such a focussed and ambitious scientific effort owes much to the persistent efforts of our group’s dedicated staff and young researchers over some years.

“During that period the ideas were built up and validated, step by step. It also owes much to a critical and timely Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-ERC support grant that allowed us to establish that the program has good prospects for success.”

Some 218 Advanced Grants were awarded by the ERC to outstanding research leaders across Europe, as part of the Horizon Europe programme.

The grants - totalling €544m for 2023 - are amongst the most prestigious and competitive EU funding schemes, providing researchers with the opportunity to pursue ambitious, curiosity-driven projects that could lead to major scientific breakthroughs.

They are awarded to established, leading researchers with a proven track-record of significant research achievements over the past decade.

“These new ERC Advanced Grantees are a testament to the outstanding quality of research carried out across Europe,” said ERC President Maria Leptin.

“I am especially pleased to see such a high number of female researchers in this competition and that they are increasingly successful in securing funding. We look forward to seeing the results of the new projects in the years to come, with many likely to lead to breakthroughs and new advances.”

EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel added: “ERC grants are a top recognition and a significant commitment from our best researchers. The €544 million funding puts our 218 research leaders, together with their teams of postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and research staff, in pole position to push back the boundaries of our knowledge, break new ground and build foundations for future growth and prosperity in Europe.”

A leading expert on the principles governing the interactions of nanoscale entities with living organisms, Professor Dawson is the founder of the modern concept of the ‘bimolecular corona’ hypothesis responsible for nanoparticle biological identity - that is, how cells and tissues ‘perceive’ the approaching particle.

Since 2007, his team’s work at CBNI has been central to understanding the unique processes by which nanostructures are recognised and processed in biology. 

A recipient of the US National Academy Cozzarelli Prize, the Richardson Prize, the Medal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and Sloan, Dreyfus and IBM awards, Professor Dawson is a member of the Royal Irish Academy, Royal Society of Chemistry, and various international scientific organisations. In 2022, he was elected to The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering’s (AIMBE) College of Fellows in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations (with materials from Emma Loughney, UCD Research and Innovation)

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