Actualité - Award

Institut Curie awarded yet another prestigious ERC grant


This Tuesday 31 January, Institut Curie Research Center biology researcher Jean-Léon Maître was awarded one of the European Research Council’s coveted grants. With two million Euros awarded over five years, the grant will allow the scientist to deepen our understanding of the physical forces at play in how the human body is structured.

Portrait Jean-Léon Maitre

As one major grant comes to an end, another begins for Jean-Léon Maître. Head of the Mechanics of mammalian development team (CNRS UMR3215/Inserm U934/Sorbonne Université), he received his first European Research Council grant in 2017.

As the recipient of one of the body’s Starting Grants, he was able to spend five years working on his basic research into how mammals’ bodies develop. In concrete terms, he demonstrated the astonishing role played by the physical properties of cells that shape the formation of the first axis of embryo symmetry (dorsoventral).

This time, the researcher has been awarded an even more generous Consolidator Grant, worth two million Euros over a five-year period. This grant will allow him to explore three other physical properties thought to impact on how the embryo is structured: cell membrane permeability, mechanics of the plasma membrane (which outlines cell borders) and mechanics of nuclei (where genomes are housed).

A long-term recruitment campaign

His team has already been equipped with everything needed to conduct this research, notably optical tweezers — an invention that won Arthur Ashkin the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2018. These tools are used to capture and handle very small objects. In this case, they will be put to work in stretching out cells’ membranes, or to shake the contents of their nuclei, converting light energy into mechanical force. The ERC Consolidator Grant will now allow him to recruit four young researchers to get started on the work. “The European Research Council’s substantial long-term funding is invaluable in bringing ambitious, complex projects to life. They are vital, in addition to the short- and medium-term grants issued by French bodies,” the researcher notes.

The research carried out at Institut Curie’s Genetics and Developmental Biology research unit is regularly awarded ERC funding, and provides other scientists working on cancer with much-valued insights. Following on from Renata Basto, Antonin Morillon and Danijela Matic Vignjevic, Jean-Léon Maître is the fourth Institut Curie researcher to successfully secure an ERC Starting Grant followed immediately by a Consolidator Grant, proof if ever was needed of just how vibrant and highly innovative basic research is at Institut Curie.