Metabolism researcher wins an ERC grant worth 1.5 million

The European Research Council has granted an ERC Starting Independent Researcher Grant to Academy Research Fellow Ville Hietakangas from the Institute of Biotechnology. The five-year grant totals approximately EUR 1.5 million.

The European Research Council has granted an ERC Starting Independent Researcher Grant to Academy Research Fellow Ville Hietakangas from the Institute of Biotechnology. The five-year grant totals approximately EUR 1.5 million.

Ville Hietakangas is delighted as the grant allows for goal-orientated work in the long term.

– This type of funding is extremely important to a recently established team of researchers. It enables us to fully focus on the issues that I think are essential in our field, he says.

With his team, Hietakangas studies the messages that the organism of a fruit fly sends about its nutritional status. Among other things, the team has discovered a genetic mutation in a fly that severely disturbs glucose metabolism. The reason for the metabolic imbalance remains partly unclear, which makes this mutation and its exceptional glucose metabolism an interesting discovery in terms of further research.

The team is interested in communication within organisms: how does an organism use the information it collects to control metabolism?

The project that was awarded the funding focuses on detecting glucose and the related gene regulation. The goal is to find new gene regulators that contribute to glucose metabolism.

Metabolic diseases are increasing

Fruit flies have been used for research in experimental biology for more than a hundred years. They are also suitable for metabolism research. The fruit fly is an excellent model system, because its genes can be switched on and off in any specific tissue. It also enables broad genetic screens as raising flies is relatively inexpensive and fast.

Although people and fruit flies differ in appearance, their metabolic systems and many other cell-level functions have remained quite similar throughout evolution.

– Our work involves basic research in biology, but the results may benefit the development of treatments for diabetes and other metabolic diseases in the long run, says Hietakangas.

Metabolism research is growing in significance, because morbid obesity and related metabolic diseases are becoming more common around the world.

Through its Starting Independent Researcher Grants, the European Research Council supports young researchers who are in the process of establishing a research team or finding stability for a project that has been running for a few years. Hietakangas is the third recipient of an ERC Starting Independent Researcher Grant at the University of Helsinki this autumn.

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Text: Kirsikka Mattila
Photo: Linda Tammisto
25.8.2011
Translation: AAC Global
University of Helsinki, digital communications


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