ERC Starting Grants for Professor Silvia Budday and Professor Alessandro Del Vecchio

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Image: Faculty of Engineering / FAU

Young researchers receive millions of euros in EU funding

Funding from the European Research Council (ERC) is highly competitive. Receiving this funding not only provides researchers new impetus because of the high funding amounts of up to 1.5 million euros over a period of five years, but also recognizes the recipients as top-level researchers in their fields. Several FAU researchers have now been awarded an ERC Starting Grant, including Silvia Budday and Alessandro Del Vecchio from the Faculty of Engineering.

Silvia Budday: The brain engineer

Prof. Dr. Silvia Budday
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Silvia Budday (Bild: FAU/Georg Pöhlein)

An engineer who performs research on the brain? What may initially sound a little far fetched becomes clear once you take a closer look. Prof. Dr. Silvia Budday researches the behavior of extremely soft materials under mechanical influences. These materials include hydrogels, but also human brain tissue. This is because mechanics influence the way cells function and thus also affect our health.

The aim of the MAGERY project funded by the ERC Starting Grant is to prevent damage to brain cells caused by mechanical stresses, for example during brain surgery.

By using a novel experimental setup, a combination of mechanical measurements, multiphoton microscopy and mathematical modeling and simulation, Budday and her team investigate which mechanical load levels our brain cells can withstand before they become damaged or die.

The integration of these findings into virtual or augmented reality solutions for neurosurgery could enable stresses and potential damage that occur during surgery to be reliably predicted and immediately displayed so that surgeons can react accordingly and prevent tissue and cell damage.

More information: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Silvia Budday, Institute of Continuum Mechanics and Biomechanics

Alessandro Del Vecchio: From thoughts to movements

Prof. Dr. Alessandro Del Vecchio
Prof. Dr. Alessandro Del Vecchio (Bild: FAU/Georg Pöhlein)

A large number of people suffer from partial or complete muscular paralysis for which there is no cure. Although neural interfaces have the potential to restore motor function with the use of assistance systems, even the most up-to-date invasive neural implants only allow patients very limited control of the movement of their paralyzed limbs because the transfer of information from the brain to the assistance systems is too imprecise.

With the ERC Starting Grant, Alessandro Del Vecchio, Professor of Neuromuscular Physiology and Neural Interfacing at FAU, hopes to develop interfaces that are better at transferring the desired movement to the prosthetic limb.

His approach starts with spinal motor neurons, which are the last cells of the nervous system that convert motor commands into movement.

In the case of most nerve injuries such as spinal cord injuries and strokes, some functioning active spinal motor neurons remain that can be accessed using minimally-invasive methods.

Del Vecchio and his team hope to develop something known as bi-directional interfaces that detect and transmit the activity of spinal motor neurons in real time. To do so, the researchers are using new deep learning methods and hundreds of sensors that measure the electrical activity of the muscles in order to record, activate and expand the action potentials of individual motor units for the muscles that control the hands, thus improving the function of assistance systems.

More information: Prof. Dr. Alessandro Del Vecchio, Professorship for Neuromuscular Physiology and Neural Interfacing

You can read the full FAU announcement on the FAU News website