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The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded its 2000th ERC grant to Matthew Holt, a British neuroscientist who will start in early 2012 at VIB-K.U.Leuven. The ERC Starting Grant, almost €1.5 million, is one of the most prestigious grants for young researchers in the European Union.
"The ERC grants are an ideal tool to attract the most talented researchers to Flanders," says Bart De Strooper of VIB and K.U.Leuven. "They allow us to continuously raise the level and creativity of our academic institutions."
Holt will move to Belgium next year to establish a new interdisciplinary research group at the VIB Department of Molecular and Developmental Genetics, K.U.Leuven, under the direction of Bart De Strooper. He will investigate the role of the so-called astrocytes, a type of glia cells that is actually the major cell type in the human brain. Until recently, these cells were often dismissed as merely being “brain glue” (a supportive matrix on which neurons grow and function). However, recent research suggests astrocytes are actively modulating neuronal function.
Holt’s group aims to identify the molecules and interactions that control this function. By understanding the basic signaling pathways used by astrocytes, Holt hopes the research will ultimately lead to an alternative strategy for treating many neurological conditions. By understanding how astrocytes respond to injury and try to protect the nervous system, it is hoped that new therapeutic techniques can be developed. Holt has a particular interest in the cause and progression of stroke, which remains the major cause of adult disability in the EU.
Holt graduated in Applied Biochemistry at the University of Liverpool, before carrying out his Ph.D. in Physiology at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. In 2003, he started postdoctoral work in biochemistry at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen in Germany. Since 2010, he has been an independent researcher at the Free University in Berlin, supported by the Neurocure Initiative. Holt will move to Belgium next year to establish a new interdisciplinary research group at the VIB Department of Molecular and Developmental Genetics, K.U.Leuven, under the direction of Bart De Strooper.
He is one of the 480 researchers selected out of 4,080 applicants in the latest annual competition for ERC Starting Grants.