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HindustanTimes Thu,21 Aug 2014

EU grants help Indian researchers pursue 'blue sky' research

IANS  New Delhi, April 26, 2013
First Published: 12:58 IST(26/4/2013) | Last Updated: 14:00 IST(26/4/2013)

An over 2.2-million-euros grant to research the mysteries of the human DNA in a lab in France - that's the handsome sum Indian researcher Ramesh Pillai has got from the European Research Council (ERC).

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Since 2007, around 13 Indian researchers have been awarded grants to pursue unfettered or "blue sky" research, ERC data shows a number that the ERC said it would "be happy to see increase".

Pillai, who got the ERC Starting Grant in 2010, is based at the European Molecular Biological Laboratory, Grenoble.

Through his research, Pillai said he is "trying to understand how the cell world controls the genetic information within it".

"This would help in creating artificial molecules which could be used to target "regions of interest - for example - broken or damaged copies of our genes that cause diseases like cancer," Pillai said in a video clip provided to IANS by the ERC.

Suman Peel-Lata, a research fellow at the University Of Bristol, also has benefitted from the grant.

Though she trained as a chemist in India, Peel-Lata was always fascinated by the "prospect of applying tools from physics to complex biological systems".

"I tried to understand how some viruses like HIV multiply inside the host cell and escape the host cell to further infect other cells," she said.

Peel-Lata, who got substantial funding from the ERC, says the object of her research is to develop new technology to understand the process of "membrane abscission" which would be very useful for "doing effective drug discovery" for HIV-1, among other diseases.

She said the ERC "actively encourages collaboration with international partners and is willing to let you take measured amounts of risk and aim high", in comparison to other research bodies in the West that fund "tested and tried territories".

"The ERC grant is substantial and allows me to do blue sky research," said Peel-Lata.

The criterion, according to her, is to identify a research field that is of "interest to wider community, and the ability to take calculated amounts of risk and the courage to get out of your comfort zone and aim high".

As part of its 2012 "ERC Goes Global" awareness campaign, ERC secretary general Donald Dingwell went on a world tour to inform researchers about attractive European funding opportunities. He was in India last month.

The ERC funds leading researchers from anywhere in the world, and their innovative ideas across all disciplines, with up to euro 3.5 million (around Rs. 24.68 crore) per grant, said a statement.

Since the ERC's launch in 2007, it has awarded euro 5.7 billion (approx Rs. 40,196 crore) to over 3,400 scientists - both early-career and senior.


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