The ERC Starting Grant is a grant scheme by the European Research Council, targeted at promising research directors in the early stages of their careers. The grant is intended for establishing a research group and launching independent research activities in Europe.
Starting Grants can be awarded to researchers who have worked for no more than seven years after graduating with a doctoral degree. In addition, grant recipients are required to have a scientific track record that shows great promise and an excellent research proposal.
Their field of research is not restricted.
Jing Tang’s ERC funded project develops machine-learning algorithms and computational tools to facilitate discovery of personalized drug combinations.
Each year we spend more than 100 billion euros on cancer medicine globally. However, many cancer drugs benefit at most 25% of the patients who take them. Cancer cells also tend to easily develop drug resistance.
Tang’s project aims to
Jing Tang’s research could help make cancer drugs more effective, safer and more affordable. The tools that Tang and his group are working on are intended to help clinicians and pharmaceutical companies bring more effective combinatorial therapies to cancer patients.
Informatics approaches for the rational selection of personalized cancer drug combinations, 2017–2022.
Merja Voutilainen’s ERC-funded project examines a new treatment for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and Parkinson’s disease. Voutilainen has discovered a new CDNF fragment that has already proven to have neurorestorative effects in animal models of ALS and Parkinson’s.
The main goals of Voutilainen’s project are to understand
As populations grow older, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and ALS affect more and more people. There are currently no treatments for ALS or Parkinson’s that could halt the progression or cure the disease. Voutilainen’s research could provide one.
Neurotrophic factors (NTFs) are promising candidates for treating neurodegenerative diseases since they regulate the survival of neurons, neurite growth, and branching, and also protect neurons from injury and toxins. Currently, since NTFs cannot penetrate through the blood brain barrier (BBB), they are administered directly either into the brain or intrathecal space in ALS patients or the brain of PD patients.
CDNF fragment is an exceptionally powerful new drug candidate for Parkinson’s and ALS. CDNF fragment can cross through the BBB and can thus be safely administered peripherally. It is also easier and cheaper to produce than current drugs. CDNF fragment has the potential to be more effective than current NTF treatment. It could revolutionise the treatment of ALS and Parkinson’s.
Elucidating therapeutic effects and mode of action of future trophic factors in ALS and Parkinson’s disease, FutureTrophicFactors, 2019–2024.
Kaius Sinnemäki’s ERC-funded project investigates how languages change in various social environments.
Sinnemäki’s project utilises datasets from 150 different languages, which makes it possible to compare how different types of languages have evolved in different circumstances. The project’s hypothesis is that language structure changes and develops partially according to its social environment.
Social environment can mean, for example, how large and multilingual the community using the language is, and the usual age of language learners.
The project has two primary goals:
The methods developed in Sinnemäki’s project will enable a new kind of research on language adaptation and variation. The project promotes linguistic equality and increases our understanding of how much people living in different societies around the world have in common with one another.
Linguistic Adaptation: Typological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives to Language Variation, 2019–2023
Jaakko Tahkokallio’s ERC funded project examines the liturgical books of parish churches in the Kingdom of Sweden ca 1150–1500, and how the books were manufactured. The project also sheds light on the international networks of medieval book production.
Tahkokallio’s source material consists of medieval parchment fragments. These fragments are pages torn from medieval books and reused as record covers by the tax officials in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The project has two main goals:
This research project helps understand a medieval advancement, which profoundly shaped European society: the commercialisation of the book and its transformation into a part of everyday life. Understanding the history of the book is especially important now, as we are living in the midst of the greatest transformation of information technology since the invention of printing.
Books of the Medieval Parish Church, 2021–2025.
Federico Bianchi’s ERC funded project examines the aerosol makeup of our atmosphere as it would have been before industrialisation. We know a lot about the atmosphere today, but very little about the atmosphere 300 years ago.
Bianchi studies pre-industrial aerosols by organising intensive measurements in remote, preindustrial-like environments like the Arctic and Siberia. Bianchi’s team will combine data from the field campaigns with laboratory experiments to provide ground-breaking, new understanding of the impact of present and future aerosol on climate.
The main goals of the project are to:
Bianchi’s project will deepen our understanding of historical climate change. This in turn will provide tools for more accurate estimates of natural aerosol formation, and more accurate climate models.
Chasing pre-industrial aerosols, 2020–2025.
Katri Korpela’s ERC-funded project investigates the intestinal microbiota of children by combining methods of population ecology with analyses in molecular biology. The project collects and analyses faecal samples and food diaries from children. The samples are analysed for microbial DNA, RNA and metabolites.
The project aims to determine precisely which factors affect the functioning and composition of the gut microbiota in small children, and how the microbiota affects children’s health. The goal is to learn to modify the gut microbiota in a health-promoting direction.
The results will make it possible to accurately determine the role of each individual microbe in the infant gut and how various factors affect the infant gut microbiota as an ecosystem. This knowledge will enable the design of methods that can be used to detect and fix potential defects in the development of the gut microbiota. One of the most typical factors that disturb the development of the microbiota in children is antibiotic courses given to the majority of children during their first years of life.
Marja Vierros’ ERC funded project studies how the Greek language was used and how it changed in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, based on the surviving corpus of documentary papyri.
Vierros’ project focuses on turning the exceptional body of written Greek that survives from Ancient Egypt into a digital corpus that serves linguistic studies far into the future. The material consists of large amount of texts that include both everyday and administrational language. Studying this material will shed new light on how Ancient Greek developed as a language in the postclassical era (ca. 300 BCE to 700 CE), and how it varied regionally and in different social contexts.
The project’s main aims are to:
The results of Vierros’ project will enhance our understanding of how languages function and shape the communication practices in a multilingual community, where the language groups are unequal in size and the languages have different social statuses. The project’s methodology on how to bring fragmentary corpus of an ancient language into a form that can be studied with several computer linguistic methods is expected to be of interest also to many language specialists.
Digital Grammar of Greek Documentary Papyri (PapyGreek), 2018–2023.
Mikko Sipilä’s ERC-funded project investigates how the gases present in the atmosphere form new aerosol particles which affect cloud properties and, consequently, the climate.
Previously, particle formation has been investigated with appropriate accuracy only in laboratory conditions. Sipilä’s group looked into the phenomenon on the Atlantic coast, but evidence from other areas in the world is lacking.
The main goal of the project is to develop new techniques for detecting and measuring
Sipilä’s research findings help to understand the impact of human activity on the climate. With new measuring techniques and equipment, researchers will be able to produce increasingly accurate climate models and predictions.
Molecular steps of gas-to-particle conversion: From oxidation to precursors, clusters and secondary aerosol particles, 2017–2022.
Monica Passananti’s ERC funded project examines the occurrence of nanoplastics in the environment, their reactivity in surface waters and in the atmosphere, and how nanoplastics may disrupt ecosystems.
The project’s main aim is to develop a method to sample and analyse nanoplastics in the environment. Until now, such methodologies don’t existent.
Passananti’s research findings can in the long run be used to take informed decisions on regulation of the use of plastics. Plastic pollution is a global problem, as small pieces of plastic have been found even in the most remote areas of the Earth.
NaPuE – Impact of Nanoplastics Pollution on aquatic and atmospheric Environments, 2021–2025.
Josephine Hoegaerts’ ERC funded project examines the history of political speech and the issue of “voice” in 19th-century politics.
Hoegaerts’ project focuses on the role sound has played in making and breaking political careers, in political decision making, and in the exchange of knowledge and information between the colony and the metropole in the 19th century.
The project has two main aims:
Hoegaerts’ project will provide new understanding of how political speech, debate and reporting have developed over time. This in turn gives us unique insight into how modern democracies work or collapse.
Vocal Articulations of Parliamentary Identity and Empire (CALLIOPE), 2018–2023.
Christian Hakulinen’s ERC-funded project investigates the effects of mental disorders on social networks.
Hakulinen’s focus is particularly on how mental disorders affect the wellbeing and socioeconomic resources of family members and friends. Hakulinen will also investigate the temporal duration of these effects.
The project’s primary goals are to
Hakulinen’s ERC-funded project is based on comprehensive Finnish registry datasets that encompass all people who have lived in Finland since 1994. It has the potential to considerably expand knowledge on the broader effects of mental disorders on social networks. In his prior studies, Hakulinen has demonstrated how mental disorders that require hospital care experienced in adolescence and early adulthood are connected with low income, poor education and unemployment over the life span of individuals.
Effects of mental disorders on the wellbeing and prosperity of family members and friends, 2022–2027.
Enrico Di Minin’s ERC funded project investigates the international trade in wildlife. Di Minin’s group uses digital data sources, such as social media data, in combination with machine learning and natural language processing and market analyses.
Di Minin’s project aims to mobilize new data to investigate the global patterns and trends of the international trade in wildlife. Information about these is currently largely missing.
The main objectives are to:
Trade in wildlife is booming online. By using Big Data mined from digital platforms, Di Minin’s project aims to identify which species and wildlife products are traded and why. Di Minin’s project also tries to identify the global hotspots for wildlife trade and understand how market forces shape the trade. This information can then be used to inform conservation decision-making both globally and locally.
Quantifying the global patterns and trends of the illegal wildlife trade: from artificial intelligence to financial market analysis (WILDTRADE), 2019–2024.
Emmi Helle’s ERC-funded project investigates the effects of maternal diseases and genetics on the development of the heart of the embryo and foetus during early pregnancy.
Congenital heart defects are the most common structural abnormalities in newborns, occurring in roughly one in 100 individuals. Congenital heart defects are known to be partly hereditary, but their inheritance is complex. The events associated with the early development of the heart that result in heart defects are still fairly poorly known.
The main goals of Helle’s project are to:
The research dataset is composed of national registry data, Finnish biobank samples and data from the FinnGen project.
Helle has assembled a team with diverse expertise in registry-based studies, genetic research as well as cell and molecular biology. The ERC-funded project combines this expertise with Finland’s globally unique registry, biobank and genetic data.
Emmi Helle is currently working as clinical researcher funded by the Academy of Finland.
FINNPEDHEART: Unraveling the etiology of congenital heart defects – the role of maternal genetics and cardiovascular disease as a risk factor, 2023–2028
Teppo Särkämö’s ERC funded project explores how the human brain processes music, especially singing, and how normal ageing and age-related neurological disorders, such as aphasia and Alzheimer’s disease, affect this.
Särkämö’s project uses modern behavioural and neuroimaging methods to deepen our understanding of music in the ageing, recovering, and degenerating brain. Särkämö’s team seeks to optimize the therapeutic use of music in supporting healthy ageing and enhancing wellbeing and functioning in aphasia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The project has three main aims:
Särkämö’s project will provide new systems-level understanding of the structural and functional relationship between singing, speech and music in the ageing brain. The project helps explain why music has such therapeutic power, and why it promotes well-being in both a normal ageing brain and a brain with common age-related neurological disorders. This can lead to the development of novel music-based rehabilitation methods, which are motivating, cost-effective, and widely applicable.
Preservation and Efficacy of Music and Singing in Ageing, Aphasia, and Alzheimer’s Disease (PREMUS), 2019–2023.
Mari Pihlatie’s ERC funded project studies the nature of methane emissions from trees.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that significantly contributes to climate change. Recent discoveries demonstrate that trees emit methane and by doing so they affect the methane budget of forests. As forests cover ca 30% of the global land area, understanding this newly discovered source of methane is crucial for a better understanding of the global methane cycle.
The main aims of the project are to:
Pihlatie’s research can revolutionize our understanding of the methane cycling in forests today and in the future. Understanding of the role of trees in methane exchange of forests will help creating more accurate climate models, and decrease the uncertainties in global methane budget.
From processes to modelling of methane emissions from trees (MEMETRE), 2018–2023.
Anniina Färkkilä’s ERC-funded project investigates how ovarian cancer cells manage to hide from the body’s immune system and how these mechanisms can be utilised in the development of new, increasingly effective therapies.
The project examines how gene mutations, the location of individual cells and cell–cell interaction, as well as the expression of genes in different parts of tumours affect the prognosis and the treatment responses in ovarian cancer. Research findings can be used to develop new immuno- and combination therapies for epithelial ovarian cancer, a common and the most lethal gynaecologic cancer.
The project’s primary goals are to
According to the previous findings of Färkkilä’s research group, ovarian cancer can be accurately classified on the basis of gene mutations. These mutations also dictate how the immune system detects the cancer cells. Consequently, certain immunotherapies are more effective in some patients with ovarian cancer than in others.
In the ERC-funded project, researchers have the opportunity to study individual ovarian cancer cells and their functioning with an unprecedented precision. The findings can be used to identify new immunotherapies as well as improve the treatment and prognosis of ovarian cancer patients. The findings will also make it possible to target the new therapies to those patients who will benefit the most from them.
Färkkilä is currently working as clinical researcher funded by the Academy of Finland.
Precision oncology of spatial immune escape mechanisms in ovarian cancer (SPACE), 2023–2027
Andrea Ganna’s ERC funded project studies how to provide personalised risk assessment of cardiovascular diseases using artificial intelligence. Ganna and his team will integrate health data and genetic information on a nationwide scale to achieve their goal.
The main goals of the project are to:
Ganna’s project seeks to create an approach to provide risk assessment of cardiovascular diseases before an individual even steps into the doctor’s office. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in Europe. Current prediction models have major limitations, e.g. requiring time-consuming clinical measurements.
A nationwide artificial intelligence assessment of cardiometabolic risk, 2020–2025.
Eeva Luhtakallio’s ERC-funded project investigates how European young people utilise images as tools of societal participation.
Luhtakallio’s project analyses the images shared by young people on social media, as well as their practices of photography, sharing images and commenting in four European countries: Finland, Germany, France and Portugal. The project examines what kind of ways of politicisation and influencing are encompassed and produced by increasing visuality. The project combines ethnography with AI-assisted mining of image data.
The project’s primary goals are
Research conducted under Luhtakallio’s project will advance our understanding of what political participation and influencing will be like in future European democracies. The results can also help identify solutions to crises of democracy.
Imagi(ni)ng Democracy: European Youth Becoming Citizens by Visual Participation (ImagiDem), 2019–2024.
Jarno Mäkelä’s ERC funded project studies how bacteria can withstand severe temperature changes. We still don’t know how bacteria can grow across large temperature ranges. While many multi-cellular organisms maintain constant internal temperature, microbes lack homeothermic regulation which subjects them to fluctuations in environmental temperature.
To understand these processes, the project utilizes super-resolution microscopy that allows direct visualization of the activity of thousands of individual proteins inside individual living cells.
The main goals of the project are to:
The project will contribute to our understanding how environmental changes affect microbes, which is essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future. We can also use these new insights to develop more energy-efficient, environment-friendly biotechnological processes.
Single-molecule visualization of temperature adaptation in sub-cellular dynamics and organization across bacteria (TEMPADAPT), 2023–2028
Samu Niskanen’s ERC funded project studies what it meant to publish new literary works in the Middle Ages, before the introduction of print in Europe.
Niskanen’s project examines how Latin authors published their original works during the Middle Ages, c.1000–1500. The project’s hypothesis is that publication strategies were not a constant but were liable to change, and that different social, literary, institutional, and technical environments fostered different approaches to publishing.
The main aims of the project are to:
Niskanen’s project contributes to our perception of medieval Latin literature and of the dynamics of medieval networking. The project deepens our understanding of how learned topics such as theology, philosophy, medicine, science and history have been communicated through time.
Medieval Publishing from c.1000 to 1500 (MedPub), 2017–2022.
In her ERC-funded project, Maria Lasonen-Aarnio investigates epistemology and normativity: what makes beliefs, actions and choices good? How should beliefs be assessed in the first place?
Lasonen-Aarnio is developing a new epistemological based on distinguishing between successful and competent beliefs. Success is knowing, while competence, in terms of knowledge, denotes positive tendencies and customs of forming and shaping beliefs. Competence does not always lead to knowledge, but neither does knowledge always stem from competence.
The framework presented in the project carries on the externalist tradition: the goodness of beliefs is not about reconciling them with internal mental phenomena. Instead, competence too is perceived through knowledge founded on an appropriate relationship between the mind and the external world. One of the project’s main goals is to demonstrate how this framework will solve a number of problems central to epistemology.
Although the development of the epistemological framework is the primary objective, another goal is to apply it to societally topical phenomena, such as epistemic bubbles, structures that produce distorted evidence and the way in which our attention shapes our mental state.
Competence and Success in Epistemology and Beyond, 2018–2022.
In her ERC-funded project, Maria Vartiainen investigated the structure of the cell nucleus and particularly the functioning of the actin protein as part of cell metabolism.
Actin as the Master Organiser of Nuclear Structure and Function, 2012–2018
Atte Moilanen has developed methods for analysing datasets to support land-use planning founded on conservation and ecology.
One of Moilanen’s most significant achievements is the development of the Zonation software. In a balanced manner, Zonation takes into account even large numbers in analysing different geoinformation layers related to biodiversity, prioritising various areas by their natural value.
Analyses produced by the program can be applied to planning conservation area networks and avoiding negative biological effects, as well as in support of zoning and targeting ecological compensation.
Global Environmental Decision Analysis, 2011–2015.
Hannes Lohi investigates human diseases by modelling them in dogs. Thanks to breeding, mutations that result in diseases in pure-bred dogs are easier to monitor than human diseases.
With his ERC grant, Lohi investigated neuropsychiatric diseases in dogs and how they can be used to model human diseases.
Among other things, Lohi’s research group has discovered new gene loci associated with hip dysplasia, a variant of the regulatory element of a gene associated with joint development that may protect against hip dysplasia, the reason for a predisposition to epilepsy in Rhodesian Ridgebacks as well as common factors underlying human mental health problems and canine fearfulness.
Canine models of human psychiatric disease: identifying novel anxiety genes with the help of man's best friend, 2010–2015.
Otso Ovaskainen investigates the ecological, genetic and evolutionary consequences of habitat fragmentation.
In the project funded by an ERC Starting Grant, Ovaskainen’s group delved into the dynamics of natural populations.
Spatial ecology: bringing mathematical theory and data together, 2008–2013.
Subsequently, Ovaskainen has been conducting research with a Synergy Grant awarded by the ERC.
Akseli Hemminki develops novel forms of cancer therapy. His group focuses particularly on gene therapy and oncolytic viruses.
Oncolytic adenoviruses expressing monoclonal antibody trastuzumab for treatment of Her-2+ cancer, 2008–2014.
Mikko Niemi investigates mutations associated with the efficacy and adverse effects of cholesterol medication.
Transporter pharmacogenomics – the contribution of transporters to variability in drug response, 2012–2017.
Subsequently, Niemi has been conducting research with a Consolidator Grant awarded by the ERC.
Anna-Liisa Laine investigates the evolution of resistance. Her focus is on plants, but the disease and resistance mechanisms are very similar in other species.
In her project, which was awarded a Starting Grant by the ERC, Laine investigated how plants as well as individuals and populations in general survive and develop their resistance under the simultaneous attack of several pathogens.
Linking Pathogen Evolution and Epidemiology, 2011–2016.
Subsequently, Laine has been conducting research with a Consolidator Grant awarded by the ERC.
Pekka Katajisto’s ERC funded project aimes to understand how organelle quality, determined by organelle age, affects cell fate for example via cellular metabolism. The team also addresses whether asymmetric segregation of organelles is a general property of tissue stem cells in mammals.
The ultimate aim of the project is to discover new ways to enhance stem cell self-renewal, by modulating cellular functions influenced by the inheritance of qualitatively different organelles.
Katajisto has developed strategies to follow how organelles, the internal “organs” of single cells, are inherited between the two new cells resulting from a cell division. His team studies this in stem cells, which are responsible for the renewal of our tissues. The team recently discovered that when they divide, some stem cells allocate old organelles selectively between the two daughter cells. However, the reasons behind such age-discrimination of cellular components are not understood.
Aging is associated with decline of tissue function due to the inability of stem cells to self-renew and produce new cells to replace damaged ones. Discoveries from the project may open new possibilities to target aging associated functional decline. Such treatments could promote overall functionality among elders by restoring tissue function, or aid in situations where the slow recovery rate of old patients poses a challenge.
Project name and duration
Age-Selective Segregation of Organelles, 2016-2021.
In her ERC-funded project, Tiina Sikanen developed a technical solution to simplify drug testing. Sikanen received a commercialisation grant from the ERC for progressing the rapid test for hepatic enzyme activity that she had developed to a marketable form.
Sikanen has also contributed to a research project focused on solving environmental threats related to the manufacturing, consumption and disposal of drugs.
Customized Micro Total Analysis Systems to Study Human Phase I Metabolism, 2013–2019.
In Jukka Corander’s ERC-funded project, mathematical methods were developed for matching statistical models with extremely challenging datasets.
The statistical models developed by Corander’s group produce new information on bacterial distribution, behaviour and resistance to antibiotics.
Intelligent Stochastic Computation Methods for Complex Statistical Model Learning, 2009–2014.
In their ERC-funded project, Hélder A. Santos and his research group designed microscopically small drug carriers, which deliver the pharmaceutical agent precisely to the intended location in the human body and also release it at precisely the right time.
Santos has also received funding from the ERC for commercialising nanovaccines.
Multistage-Multifunctional Porous Silicon Nanovectors for Directed Theranostics, 2013–2017
Tuomas Hytönen investigates harmonic analysis. In his ERC-funded project, he utilised probabilistic tools and random constructions to identify answers to questions of traditional mathematical analysis.
Analytic-probabilistic methods for borderline singular integrals, 2011–2016.
Sanna Lehtonen specialises in diabetes and diabetic nephropathy.
With their ERC grant, Lehtonen’s group focused particularly on the initial phase of the disease.
Subsequently, Lehtonen has discovered a mechanism underlying metformin, a commonly used diabetes drug, which can both expand its uses and break ground for the development of new drugs.
In both cell cultures and an animal model, Lehtonen demonstrated that metformin binds to the lipid phosphatase SHIP2, reducing its activity. The reduction in SHIP2 activity increases glucose uptake in muscle cells and decreased cell death in podocytes, or glomerular epithelial cells.
Insulin resistance and diabetic nephropathy – development of novel in vivo models for drug discovery, 2009–2014
Kaius Tuori’s research focuses on Europe. In their project funded by a Starting Grant awarded by the ERC, Tuori and his research group surveyed legal tradition and political intellectual history in Europe.
Reinventing the Foundations of European Legal Culture 1934–1964, 2013–2018
Ville Hietakangas investigates the body’s signals related to nutrition.
With a grant awarded by the ERC, Hietakangas’s group focused on the transmission of information pertaining to the nutritional state, utilising fruit flies in their studies and determining how glucose is sensed.
Hietakangas’s group has observed that the ability to use glucose as nourishment varies considerably between closely related fruit fly species. The research also lays the ground for investigating the variation in glucose tolerance in different human populations.
Transcriptional networks in glucose sensing, 2012–2017.
Iiris Hovatta, professor of behavioural genetics, investigates anxiety, its different forms and the effect of genes on it.
With her ERC grant, Hovatta studied how anxiety functions in different species, and what takes place in the animal and human brain in connection with anxiety.
A cross-species neurogenomics approach to anxiety, 2012–2017.