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European Research Grant award winner

Posted on 10 September 2019

Dr Lianne Willems has been awarded a five-year research grant worth €1.5m to support the first phase of her career as an independent academic here in York.

The highly-coveted European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants help individual scientists and scholars to build their own teams and conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. 

Dr Lianne Willems

The central goal of Dr Willems’ research program is to improve our understanding of a relatively rare but devastating class of muscular dystrophies through the use of cutting-edge techniques in chemical biology.

Patients suffering from some forms of muscular dystrophy are unable to produce a key molecule, which is essential for the normal functioning of muscles and components of the nervous system. This molecule sits on cell surfaces and carries a long chain of carbohydrates that make important links to the surrounding tissue. Although it is known that these interactions are essential, it is unclear how cells make the carbohydrate chain.

Dr Willems' team will therefore be diving into the molecular details of this process, studying some of the key enzymes responsible for linking the carbohydrates together. This research will help us answer important questions about how certain genetic defects lead to muscular dystrophy and the way in which specific symptoms are caused. As a result, these new findings may help design new diagnostic tools and therapeutic strategies.

Dr Willems said: “This grant is a fantastic opportunity for me to boost my independent career and to start building an exciting new research program that addresses the vital role carbohydrates play in human disease.”

This year’s ERC Starting Grants, are worth a total of €621m, and have been awarded to a highly diverse group, with researchers from 51 different countries of origin across the world being funded to carry out research in the European Union.