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Malte Gather receives ‘Proof of Concept’ grant from the European Research Council

A new imaging method maps cellular forces with unprecedented precision / ERC funding of 150,000 euros over 18 months enables the transfer into the market and society

Dr Nils Kronenberg (left) and Prof. Dr Malte Gather in front of the first prototype of the microscope, which will be further developed in the CELL-FORCE project.

Professor Dr Malte Gather, head of the Humboldt Centre for Nano- and Biophotonics at the Department of Chemistry of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Cologne, receives a ‘Proof of Concept’ grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for his research project CELL-FORCE. This funding line aims at exploring the commercial or social potential of an ongoing or completed ERC-funded project. The Proof of Concept grant amounts to a lump sum of 150,000 euros. CELL-FORCE will further develop a new microscopy method that allows direct and robust imaging of the forces that cells exert on their immediate environment. The project is also assessing the commercial feasibility of this new method. It follows on from Gather's now completed project ‘Advanced Bioderived and Biocompatible Lasers’ (ABLASE), for which he had received an ERC Starting Grant.

Biological cells continually exert forces on their environment, which can vary substantially in magnitude, spatial distribution and temporal evolution. These forces are key to many processes in cellular mechanobiology including cell growth, tissue formation, wound healing and the invasion of cancer cells into healthy tissue.  In order to understand how cellular forces affect the micro-environment, it is necessary to be able to image them with sufficient local and temporal resolution (e.g. continuously over several days with subcellular spatial resolution), an adequate field of view (e.g. to study large coherent cell sheets) and relevant sensitivity. Despite significant advances made in this field of functional bioimaging over the last years, existing methods still struggle to meet the requirements. This lack of suitable methods means that cellular mechanobiology has so far received comparatively little attention in commercially and socially important areas such as the development of new drugs or clinical diagnostics.

The significantly increased sensitivity of the new method over other methods allows for accurate measurements of vertical forces and of cells exerting only weak force. Since the method requires only a low light intensity and the cells can remain in the cell culture dish after the measurement, the method, which is being developed within the framework of CELL-FORCE, makes it possible to perform long-term measurements on large cell populations without photodamage and facilitates downstream applications such as immunostaining. This will open up new commercial opportunities, for example in cancer research, drug development and, in the long term, in diagnostics.

The Proof of Concept (PoC) grant can be awarded in addition to the main grants of the ERC (Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grant). It is therefore exclusively made available to principal investigators who already hold an ERC grant and wish to translate ideas arising from current or already completed ERC-funded projects to the marketplace or for diret benefit of society.

Media Contact:

Professor Dr Malte Gather

Humboldt Centre for Nano- and Biophotonics

Department of Chemistry, University of Cologne

+49 221 470 76449

Press and Communications Team:

Jan Voelkel

+49 221 470 2356

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