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University of Basel

20 June 2022

SNSF Advanced Grants for three Basel researchers

SNSF logo in front of the Basel skyline

The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has awarded three leading researchers in Basel a highly endowed SNSF Advanced Grant. Professor Peter Scheiffele from the Biozentrum, Professor Stefan Willitsch from the Department of Chemistry and Professor Andreas Lüthi from the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research will each receive a five-year endowment for their groundbreaking projects.

With the SNSF Advanced Grants, the SNSF supports leading scientists in Switzerland who take unconventional and often risky paths in their research to gain new insights. At the University of Basel, three researchers receive such a funding award. The selected projects will be funded with more than two million Swiss francs each over a period of five years. Of 232 applications submitted to the SNSF last year, 24 projects qualified for funding.

The SNSF Advanced Grants were launched in 2021 to provide researchers at Swiss institutions with a substitute to the ERC Advanced Grants, for which they are currently not eligible to apply, as Switzerland is considered a non-associated third country by the EU’s Horizon Europe research program.

Formation of complex neuronal circuits in the brain

Prof. Dr. Peter Scheiffele
Prof. Dr. Peter Scheiffele. (Image: University of Basel, Biozentrum)

In his project, neurobiologist Prof. Peter Scheiffele is investigating how nerve cells of the cerebral cortex interact to form extensive networks and what role the spontaneous activity of neurons and their molecular specificity play in this process.

Shortly after birth the neuronal networks in the cerebral cortex, in particular the visual cortex, are spontaneously active even without external stimuli. These spontaneous activity patterns shape the proper connectivity of neurons via the synapses. This synaptic specificity is a result of a molecular process known as alternative splicing.

Scheiffele now wants to elucidate how spontaneous activity and splicing processes interact to drive the formation of specific neuronal networks. The interconnections provide deep insights into healthy brain development and the network defects associated with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Peter Scheiffele has been Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel since 2008.

Controlling chemistry using quantum logic

Prof. Dr. Stefan Willitsch
Prof. Dr. Stefan Willitsch. (Photo: University of Basel, Department of Chemistry)

In his project, chemist Prof. Stefan Willitsch will investigate how approaches from quantum logic can be used to study collisions of molecules and decipher the dynamics of chemical reactions.

The development of experimental methods that can be used to control and manipulate individual isolated quantum systems has come a long way in recent years. Such methods are also highly attractive for chemical research, but the relevant techniques for complex quantum systems such as molecules are still in their infancy.

Willitsch’s ambition is to merge the fields of quantum science and chemical dynamics. In doing so, he aims to open up new possibilities for studying collisions between molecules and chemical reactions, while making a broad range of molecular systems available for applications in the quantum sciences.

Stefan Willitsch has been a professor at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Basel since 2008.

Neural mechanisms of emotional states

Prof. Dr. Andreas Lüthi
Prof. Dr. Andreas Lüthi. (Photo: Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research)

In his project, neuroscientist Prof. Andreas Lüthi aims to elucidate the neurobiological principles underlying the generation of emotional states across several types of behaviors.

The emotional state of an animal is determined by variables such as the need to feed, survive or reproduce, but also by external stimuli and previous experiences. These emotional states also shape the animal's behavior, such as foraging for food or freezing in fear. Although it is understood that an animal's emotional state depends on the configuration of the brain, it remains largely unknown how the corresponding brain-wide configurations are generated and how they define emotional states and behavior.

The project will focus on the amygdala, a tiny almond-shaped structure that is considered a key hub for processing emotional, metabolic and social stimuli. At the same time, the researchers also want to investigate how these principles are implemented at the cellular and circuit levels, and how the amygdala interacts with other brain areas to control internal states and behavior.

The elucidation of these mechanisms forms the basis for the development of new concepts to treat psychiatric disorders such as mood and anxiety disorders.

Andreas Lüthi is adjunct professor at the University of Basel and research group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research.

Continuation of SNSF Advanced Grants in 2022

Also in 2022, Switzerland is considered a third country not associated to the Horizon Europe program. The Swiss government has therefore mandated the SNSF to continue its transitional measures “SNSF Advanced Grants” and “SNSF Swiss Postdoctoral Fellowships” in 2022.
The SNSF Advanced Grants 2022 call will open on 1 August, and researchers will have until 1 November 2022 to submit their proposals. These grants are intended for researchers who wanted to apply for an ERC Advanced Grant this year in order to conduct innovative and high-risk research in Switzerland.

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