05.09.2016 change 05.09.2016

Polish scientists more effective in acquiring European grants

Three Polish scientists won the Starting Grant in the competition settled by the European Council Research. Polish scientists last obtained such a good result in 2010. The work of Polish scientists requires more financial and institutional support - Minister of Science said on Wednesday.

In the years 2007-2013 (7th Framework Programme), Polish researchers acquired only 14 of more than 4 thousand grants awarded by the European Research Council (ERC). In Horizon 2020 (2014-2020), Polish scientific entities have already received ten such ERC grants. Three of them were awarded in this year\'s edition of Starting Grants, addressed to people 2 to 7 years after the doctorate. Polish scientists previously achieved such result only in 2010.

The winners are Dr. Ewelina Knapska from the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Prof. Magdalena Król from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, and Dr. Marcin Pilipczuk from the Institute of Informatics of the University of Warsaw. In total, they received nearly 5 million euros to carry out their research projects.

Dr. Knapska will form a team that will examine how the amygdala, which is the centre of emotions in the brain, controls the positive and negative emotions transmitted socially. "We want to do it at a very precise level, by manipulating individual neurons that are there. We have developed an innovative technology that allows to perform such research in animal models" - Dr. Knapska said on Wednesday during a press conference. "We also want to found out if there are cells that are associated specifically with social emotions" - she explained during Wednesday\'s meeting at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

In turn, Prof. Magdalena Król will attempt to explain the biological phenomenon in which the immune cells transfer certain proteins to cancer cells. The researcher want to use this mechanism to "smuggle" various types anti-cancer drugs inside the protein. This way it would be possible to deliver them precisely to cancerous tumours using immune cells.

The third of the winners, Dr. Marcin Pilipczuk will demonstrate the properties of abstract mathematical models and then use them in calculations. "This is basic research. However, if we discover an +island+, something previously unknown, it can start a revolution, which we can not predict at the moment" - the winner said on Wednesday.

"The fact that for the first time in a single edition of the competition three Polish researchers won Horizon 2020 grants is proof that Polish scientists are capable of much more than the previous achievements would indicate" - said Minister of Science and Higher Education Jarosław Gowin during the press conference. He added that the work of Polish scientists requires more financial support, but also organizational changes in the science system.

The conference participants emphasised that one of those changes is the Office of Scientific Excellence PAS, established in 2016 and originated by the current President of the Academy of Sciences - Prof. Jerzy Duszyński. "One of the reasons why Polish scientists received so few ERC grants was the lack of professional support; an institution that would support researchers in applying for grants" - noted Gowin.

Vice President of the Polish Academy of Sciences Prof. Paweł Rowiński explained that the new Office helps scientists who apply for ERC grants by preparing candidates; organizing test panels, during which scientists can test themselves in a confrontation with a group of experts; promoting the activities of laureates; supporting Polish humanities. "Polish Academy of Sciences is trying to help candidates coming from all institutions. The only institution that does not require such support is the University of Warsaw" - said Prof. Rowiński.

Among Polish universities, the University of Warsaw is the leader when it comes to obtaining ERC grants. So far, such grants have been awarded to 13 scientists working there. In second place are the institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences, which received a total of nine grants. One grant received each the University of Gdansk and the Warsaw University of Life Sciences.

"Our system is long-term. We have the unique opportunity that several university units employ people, who have already won ERC grants. They can tell first hand how the process of applying for a grant works, how to go about it, how to succeed and translate it into further achievements" - said rector of the University of Warsaw, Prof. Marcin Pałys. In addition, the university also has the Office of Research Support, which consults for scientists who want to take part in grant competitions.

The ERC grants funding for three major types of projects lasting up to 5 years. Starting Grant (up to 1.5 million euros) is for researchers from 2 to 7 years after obtaining doctoral degree, Consolidator Grant (up to 2 million euros) - for scientists from 7 to 12 years after doctorate, and Advanced Grants (up to 2.5 million euros) is awarded to accomplished scientists who conduct their own research. In addition, scientists who have already won a grants from the ERC can apply for a Proof of Concept grant (up to 150 thousand euros) to develop their ideas for market needs.

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