CIC bioGUNE Ikerbasque researcher Luca Unione obtains a European ERC Starting Grant

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The European Research Council is funding talented early-career researchers with the potential to become a research leader.

1.5 million over 5 years to investigate at CIC bioGUNE the mechanisms of viral adhesion through isotopic labelling of cell surface glycans to illuminate the infectious process with atomic resolution.

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded its ERC Starting Grant to Luca Unione, Ikerbasque Researcher at the Chemical Glycobiology laboratory of CIC bioGUNE – member of the Basque Research & Technology Alliance, BRTA.

The ERC Starting Grant is aimed at talented early-career researchers who have already done excellent supervised work, are ready to work independently and have the potential to become a research leader. Experience of two to seven years since the completion of their PhD is required.

The project submitted by Luca Unione and awarded funding is called “Glyco13Cell” and aims to describe the key interactions between viruses and our cells at the highest possible resolution. To achieve this goal, Dr. Unione has designed a reductionist approach in which isotopically labelled probes (with stable carbon-13 isotope patterns) will be inserted into the glycans that coat host cells and thus be used to detect binding to the surface proteins of representative viruses such as human influenza A (common flu) and coronaviruses. The research group will combine methods from cell biology, synthetic chemistry and biophysical techniques (especially Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, NMR) to delineate the mechanisms of viral infections at atomic resolution. “Detailing the mechanisms of virus attachment to our cells in chemical terms, i.e. being able to precisely define the atoms involved, the distances between them, the interactions and energies involved, will contribute to laying the foundations for the development of future drugs against viral infections and facilitate the development of predictive models of future pandemics,” says Luca Unione.

The European Research Council has taken into account the scientific excellence of the researcher and of the research proposal submitted to grant this project 1.5 million euros over the next five years.

Luca Unione (Napoli, Italy) holds a PhD in Chemistry and is an Ikerbasque researcher at CIC bioGUNE. Throughout his career, Luca has received numerous awards, including a Marie Curie predoctoral fellowship (2012), Human Frontier Science Fellowship (2019), Juan de la Cierva and Ikerbasque Research fellowship (2022). Dr. Unione has developed his scientific career in Italy, Spain, The Netherlands and again in Spain, both in public research centres (CIB-CSIC), universities (Universitá di Napoli Federico II (IT) and Utrecht University (NL)); and in the private sector (pharmaceutical company ATLAS molecular pharma and CIC bioGUNE) where he is currently an Ikerbasque Researcher. His line of research is at the frontier between chemistry and biology and seeks to understand the role of glycans as a bridge between viruses and our cells. This ERC Starting Grant is a boost to generate new knowledge of high socio-scientific impact related to the world of glycans and their numerous functions in our health.


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