Three research projects at Institut Curie financed by the ERC Synergy Grant
The projects of Carsten Janke (Tubulin Code), Matthieu Piel and Ana-Maria Lennon-Duménil (SHAPINCELLFATE), and Patricia Bassereau and Pierre Sens (PushingCell), team leaders at Institut Curie’s Research Center, all dedicated to cellular biology and biophysics, have been selected to receive the ERC Synergy Grant 2022.
This exceptional result highlights the strength of interdisciplinarity of our Research Center. It demonstrates the excellence of Institut Curie in terms of basic research, but also the dynamism, expertise and ability of its researchers to conduct major, complex projects with their European counterparts. These grants also highlight Institut Curie’s leadership in cellular biology and biophysics. Since 2007, ERCs awarded to our researchers have accounted for close to 10% of all French ERCs awarded in life sciences.
Explains Prof. Alain Puisieux, director of the Research Center.
In 2022, 10 ERCs were awarded to Institut Curie researchers by the European Research Council, including 2 ERC Starting Grants; 2 ERC Advanced Grants; 3 ERC Proofs of Concept and 3 ERC Synergy Grants.
The winning projects:
Tubuline Code - Uncovering the molecular effects of the tubulin code and their impact on organism-wide functions
The aim of Carsten Janke, head of the Controlling Microtubule Dynamics and Function with the tubulin coderesearch team (CNRS UMR3348 / Institut Curie / Université Paris Saclay) is to understand how a simple molecule - tubulin - is involved in the normal and pathological functioning of a cell. This is done at the scale of an organism and throughout the individual’s life. Tubulin exists in various forms, a diversity that would control most of the properties and functions of microtubules, the central components of the cell’s structure (cytoskeleton). Microtubules play an essential role in cell division, the form of cells, intracellular transport and motility. This work could considerably improve our understanding of the role of the cytoskeleton in the balance of a healthy cell (homeostasis) and in a diseased cell.
The ERC Synergy Grant will truly help us to work in a complementary manner with the other teams on this joint project and to develop strong exchanges which I hope will last and become even more productive.
In collaboration with:
- Prof. Eva Nogales, structural biologist at University of California, Berkeley (USA)
- Filippo Del Bene, neurobiologist at the Institut de la Vision (Paris, France) and former research team leader at Institut Curie (CNRS UMR3215 / Inserm U934 / Sorbonne University), and
- Zdeněk Lánský, physicist at the Institute of Biotechnology in Prague (Czech Republic).
SHAPINCELLFATE – Impact of cell shapes on cell behaviour and fate
This cellular biology project at the interface of physics, immunology and oncology is conducted at Institut Curie by Matthieu Piel, head of the Systems Biology of Cell Polarity and Cell Division research team (CNRS UMR144 / Institut Curie / Sorbonne University) and Ana-Maria Lennon-Duménil, head of the Spatio-temporal dynamics of immune cells research team and director of the Immunity and Cancer unit (Inserm U932 / Institut Curie).
In the tissues, cells can take all sorts of forms, by attaching to structures or to other cells, or by moving. The mechanisms enabling this adaptation and the long-term consequences that these repeated changes in form have on physiology and pathology remain largely unknown. It has been observed that the changes in form of cells and organelles lead to reversible and irreversible alterations of their behavior and their function. The aim of SHAPINCELLFATE is thus to reveal whether the forms of cells, imposed by their physical confinement in the tissues, have an influence on their present and future behavior.
How does this change in form influence the behavior of a tumor cell? What role does it play on an immune system cell? Can we produce these changes in form to induce a favorable immune response? The answers to these questions would lead to a number of significant therapeutic options.
This project takes into account a conceptual aspect which is not much studied in biology: the memory effect in the cell. The cell recalls its physical history, the constraints it has suffered, and this affects its future decisions.
In collaboration with:
- Raphaël Voituriez, physicist at the condensed matter theoretical physics laboratory in Paris
- Giorgio Scita, cellular biologist at the FIRC Institute for Molecular Oncology (Milan, Italy)
PushingCell - Pushing from within: Control of cell shape, integrity and motility by cytoskeletal pushing forces
Patricia Bassereau, head of the Membranes and Cellular Functions team (CNRS UMR168 / Institut Curie / Sorbonne University) and Pierre Sens, head of the Physical Approach of Biological Problems research team (CNRS UMR168 / Institut Curie / Sorbonne University) provide their expertise in biological reconstitution and modelling.
A cell in a complex environment can move only by exerting force on its environment. It thus creates outgrowths of the cell - “protrusions” - that enable it to survey its environment and move. When the cell does not use adhesion to the surrounding environment to propel itself, which can be the case for immune cells for example, how does it create these protrusions and does it use them? The aim of Pushing cell is to answer various questions: How are the forces necessary for the formation of these protrusions generated at a molecular level or at a more physical level? The understanding of these basic phenomena could ultimately improve our understanding of the process of dissemination of cancerous cells, or immune cells that fight them.
I see the ERC Synergy Grant as an important training platform for the scientists of the future, with a highly multidisciplinary aspect. This embodies the entire history of Curie, a world leader for these interdisciplinary interactions between biology and physics.
Our highly interdisciplinary project should enable us to understand at different levels how a cell can migrate to a complex matrix without adhering to it, using the topography of its environment and by pushing on it. This involves experiments in cellular biology, biophysics with reconstituted systems using purified components and physical models that connect these approaches.
In collaboration with:
- Dr. Michael Karl Sixt, Executive Vice President and Professor at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA)
- Prof. Anna Akhmanova, cellular biologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands
ERCs and Institut Curie
Since 2007, the European Research Council has been a body of the European Union responsible for coordinating research efforts between EU Member States and the first pan-European funding agency for "research at the frontier of knowledge". With scientific excellence as its sole selection criterion, the ERC funds original exploratory projects that lead to scientific, technical and societal discoveries. There are several categories of grants, including the "Synergy Grant", which consists of an envelope of up to €10 million to enable the joint development of an ambitious research project, at the frontiers of knowledge, around questions that could not be resolved individually.
Building on the strength of its scientific excellence, the Institut Curie has been awarded 60 ERCs in the Life Sciences field since 2007, including 10 in 2022, making it one of the most endowed institutions in Europe.
The 5 winning researchers of the ERC Synergy Grants 2022 are integrated into the PSL-Qlife Convergence Institute as well as in the LabEx Cell(n)scale, two structuring programmes coordinated by the Institute's Research Centre.