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Published: 2022-11-21

80 new EU millions for Umeå researchers

NEWS Of the applications that researchers at Umeå University have submitted for the 2021 calls within the EU, 18 have been granted funding. Together, they get to share SEK 80 million, mainly from the new Horizon Europe framework programme.

Text: Lena Holmberg

Horizon Europe is the EU's most important programme for research and innovation. It has three main pillars, within which projects can receive funding: Scientific excellence, Global challenges and European industrial competitiveness and Innovative Europe.

Umeå University has been granted funding for exciting research within all three pillars, as well as from the new health programme EU4Health. The projects span everything from AI diagnostics to the impact of climate change and young cancer survivors.

Curious? Read more about the projects, the researchers and the calls below.

SCIENTIFIC EXCELLENCE

Research infrastructure

Skills4EOSC
 
The European Open Research Cloud, EOSC, is an EU initiative aimed at developing a virtual environment for sharing and reusing research data. The Skills4EOSC project wants to contribute by working with adapted skills development and training.

Skills4EOSC brings together 44 parties from 18 countries with the aim of creating a unified European ecosystem for education, both in and around the open research cloud. The hope is to accelerate an increased level of competence among researchers and other professionals in FAIR research data management and open science.

Specifically, the project will help to develop:

  • Career profiles and minimum viable skillsets (MVS).
  • Training of Trainers (ToT), to enable training and skills development on a larger scale.
  • Methods to develop training materials that are FAIR-by-design (i.e., that can be found, accessed, combined, reused and even adapted to the situation and target group).
  • Harmonised curricula and training paths in open science for researchers, research data management professionals, policymakers, organisations offering thematic or discipline-specific training, and training targeted at research infrastructures.

In addition, Skills4EOSC will invest in building networks of competence centers that will be able to make use of the material and methods that the project has developed, as well as support others going forward.
 
Paolo Bientinesi at the Department of Computing Science is granted approximately SEK 2,6 million for his part in the project via the call Supporting an EOSC-ready digitally skilled workforce.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions

EnvSeis
 
The doctoral network EnvSeis brings together ten leading research groups from seven countries to train twelve early-stage researchers in both seismology and geomorphology. The goal is to lay the foundation for a strong new generation of environmental seismologists.

Seismology is the study of earthquakes and how elastic waves propagate through the earth. In geomorphology, researchers instead study the landforms on the Earth's surface and the processes that create them. The doctoral student network EnvSeis will fuse both perspectives to fully leverage the potential within an emerging field – environmental seismology.

With the help of seismic techniques, it becomes possible to tackle challenges in geomorphology and analyze otherwise difficult-to-access phenomena such as landslides, mudflows and glaciers. At Umeå University, the PhD student will study how climate change can affect the role of ice melt in sediment transport and thereby shape and change our Nordic waterways.

All projects will combine observation, theory and numerical modelling to conduct ground-breaking research. This means that EnvSeis will set standards for using seismic methods in the Earth’s surface sciences, establishing Europe as a leader in the emerging field of environmental seismology.

Lina Polvi Sjöberg at the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences is granted just over SEK 3,1 million via the call Marie Skłodowska-Curie Doctoral Networks.

LEMUR

Machine learning is a branch of AI where computers are programmed to draw conclusions, solve problems and improve their results the more data is available. In the end, the computer often solves a task based on a single data representation. The doctoral network LEMUR wants to teach it how to manage several.

Different data representations may be more or less appropriate to address a particular task. However, in most cases, the problem is eventually solved on the basis of a single representation. LEMUR will leverage the idea of ​​learning with multiple representations (LMR), in which several representations are used side by side.

The doctoral network brings together ten research institutes across Europe, including Umeå University. Here, the researchers will focus on eliciting, identifying, implementing and integrating different data representations within LMR approaches from a socio-technical perspective. That is, with the interaction between people, organizations and technology in mind. Skellefteå municipality will provide the practical environment for the research activities.

The researchers will explore the ethical and societal impacts of LMR algorithms, focusing on the analysis of bias, inclusion, transparency and sustainability. This will result in novel design and visualization methods, and evaluation metrics.

Virginia Dignum at the Department of Computing Science is granted approximately SEK 3,1 million via the call Marie Skłodowska-Curie Doctoral Networks.

Viroglimmage

TBE, Nile fever, and Zika virus infection are all examples of flavivirus-mediated diseases that can attack the central nervous system. Viroglimmage wants to improve our understanding of how these viral diseases can accelerate brain aging by contributing to the breakdown or death of nerve cells.

We know that viral infections can be life-threatening or cause permanent damage to the central nervous system. For example, survivors often suffer from convulsions, paralysis, memory problems and difficulty understanding information. However, the interplay between virus infection, brain inflammation, breakdown and death of nerve cells is currently unclear.

The Viroglimmage postdoctoral project hopes to offer clarity by investigating virus-induced inflammation in the building blocks of the brain, studying both the process itself and its effects, using frontline imaging techniques. The researchers will also try to unravel the specific role that the brain's cleaning workers, microglia, have in the process.

The project aims both to develop more advanced imaging techniques and to improve our understanding of how neurotropic flaviviruses drive the brain into accelerated ageing, thereby priming neurodegeneration.

Anna Överby Wernstedt and Stefanie Willekens at the Department of Clinical Microbiology is granted just over SEK 2,2 million via the call Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships.


ARGO

Through collaboration and mobility, the ARGO project will facilitate knowledge transfer between industry and academia in Europe. The goal is to jointly unlock potential for developing new innovative solutions within nanomaterials and clinical dentistry.

ARGO will involve academic and industrial parties from the EU and associated countries, such as Ukraine. By bringing together expertise in chemistry, biomaterials, nanotechnology, microbiology, cell biology and dentistry, the network aims to explore innovative translational activities. That is, ways to transfer knowledge from health care to the laboratory and back to the patients, where the results can be of practical use.

The primary research goal of the ARGO network is to jointly develop new antibacterial materials for dentistry, specifically a nanoparticle root filling material with tailored biological and antibacterial properties. Interdisciplinary and cross-sector mobility that can strengthen knowledge transfer from academia to industry and vice versa will be the main tool for project implementation.

Thomas Boren at the Department of Medical Chemistry and Biophysics and Anders Berglund at the Department of Odontology are awarded nearly SEK 2,4 million for their part in ARGO via the call Marie Skłodowska-Curie Staff Exchange.

FF22_23

ForskarFredag ​​is Sweden's most widespread science festival. In 2022 and 2023, the festival will engage over 1,300 researchers, organize events in 26 cities and also offer an online program to show that research can be both exciting and relevant in everyday life.

FF2022_23 gives members of the public the chance to meet researchers and participate in activities designed to promote openness, curiosity and dialogue – everything from debates and science cafes to competitions, shows and practical experiments. Based on the EU's priorities, the idea is also to highlight the role of research in addressing societal challenges.

Since young people aged 6–19 are a key target group, a specific school programme will offer numerous opportunities for encounters with research. For example, via the "Borrow a researcher" concept. Here, pupils from all over Sweden get the chance to meet a researcher digitally or in the classroom, ask questions and learn more about their area of ​​interest and their everyday life.

Madelen Bodin, director of Curiosum, receives around SEK 300,000 for her work with FF22_23 via the call MSCA and citizens.

GLOBAL CHALLENGES AND EUROPEAN INDUSTRIAL COMPETITIVENESS

Cluster 1: Health

AICE

In many cases, a new facilitative technology called CCE could replace colonoscopy for the early detection of colon cancer. But at present, the analysis work is both too expensive and too uncertain. The AICE project hopes to remedy this with the help of artificial intelligence.

Today, over 18 million colonoscopies are performed in the EU each year, examinations where a finger-thick tube is inserted through the rectal opening. In addition to often being experienced as unpleasant, colonoscopies sometimes cause complications. They also constitute a heavy burden on European hospital capacities.

In up to 65 percent of cases, a new technology called colon capsule endoscopy (CCE) could be used instead. Then, the patient swallows a capsule that takes and transmits images as it passes through the intestine. One of the obstacles to implementation is that the review of the survey material requires a lot of hands-on work by trained personnel, which is both expensive and prone to human error.

In the AICE project, twelve parties are collaborating to develop a complete and validated AI-assisted process that improves CCE diagnostics. The goal is to make it realistic to introduce the technology into clinical practice for the benefit of patients, healthcare and society as a whole.

Madeleine Hayenhjelm at the Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies is granted approximately SEK 5,2 million for her work in AICE via the call Clinical validation of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for treatment and care.


CATALYSE

CATALYSE is an interdisciplinary consortium that wants to catalyse climate action in Europe. Their mission is to study and communicate the negative health effects of ongoing climate change – and respond to the urgent need for solutions.

CATALYSE stands for Climate Action To Advance Healthy Societies in Europe. In addition to providing new knowledge for informed decision-making, the researchers aim to share useful tools for turning theory into practice. Among other things, they will explore how environmental hazards caused by climate change, ecosystems and human health are connected, highlight the consequences of climate change for healthcare and the health benefits that various mitigation measures can bring.

CATALYSE will also develop tools to be able to monitor and predict climate and environmental risks and present strategies to limit negative effects. For example, for people who in their daily work are exposed to health hazards induced by climate change.

Maria Nilsson at the Department of Epidemiology and Global Health is granted approximately SEK 5,5 million for her part in the project via the call Health impacts of climate change, costs and benefits of action and inaction.


IDAlert

Today, policy and decision-makers need more effective ways to monitor the disease risks that climate change brings, as well as helpful tools for early warning, impact assessment and timely response. This is what the IDAlert project wants to offer.

Climate change is one of the drivers of recurrent outbreaks and greater geographical spread of zoonotic infectious diseases in Europe. That is, diseases that are contagious between animals and humans, such as covid-19, TBE and Ebola.
 
The IDAlert project will, among other things, co-create indicators that can track everything from direct hazards to interfaces between animals, the environment and humans where we are especially exposed and vulnerable. The researchers will also develop tools to assess the cost-benefit of various mitigation measures and prototypes to increase the health system resilience at regional and local levels.

Joacim Rocklöv at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine is granted SEK 15,8 million for his work in the project via the call Health impacts of climate change, costs and benefits of action and inaction.


INQUIRE

The quality of our indoor air can affect health, especially in children. By providing knowledge, tools and proposals for measures, the INQUIRE project wants to contribute to significantly improving indoor air and at the same time protect the health of everyone living in Europe.

The researchers will examine hazardous chemical and biological pollutants and risk factors in 200 European homes, evaluate ways to reduce them and lay the foundation for developing common standards for indoor air in Europe, so-called IAQ standards (Indoor Air Quality).

INQUIRE places particular emphasis on the impact of indoor air on infants and young children under the age of five. Partly because they spend a substantial amount of their time at home, and partly because they are more sensitive to pollution in their surroundings than adults. This puts them at greater risk of suffering from various diseases and health problems.

Peter Haglund at the Department of Chemistry is granted roughly SEK 2,8 million for his contribution to INQUIRE via the call Indoor air quality and health.


NEUROCOV

Many people suffer from long-term ailments after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Neurocov project aims to understand, and try to find ways to deal with, the complications that specifically affect the brain and mental health, so-called neuroCOVID.

Although vaccine development has been successful, long-term consequences of the SARS-CoV-2 infection remain. Not least through an increasing prevalence of neurological and psychiatric complications. Today, many people suffer from impaired concentration, memory problems and an increased risk of stroke. In some cases, it has also been possible to see actual changes in the brain. However, the causes of neuroCOVID are still unclear.

In the Neurocov project, researchers from several countries and disciplines collaborate to investigate which types of brain cells are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection, how the damage occurs and what makes people vulnerable or resistant. The project will also map the various complications, investigate underlying disease mechanisms and try to develop methods to predict the risk of being affected. The hope is that this new knowledge can form the basis of future treatment and reduce the long-term effects of COVID-19, for the individual and for society.

Anne-Marie Fors Connolly at the Department of Clinical Microbiology is granted approximately SEK 1,9 million for her part in the project via the call Personalized medicine and infectious diseases: Understanding the individual host response to viruses (e.g., SARS-CoV-2).


PARC

PARC is a new European partnership programme aimed at developing tools to reduce our exposure to hazardous chemicals, as well as their effects on human health and the environment.

PARC stands for Partnership for the Assessment of Risks from Chemicals. It is the largest project financed under the new Horizon Europe framework programme with approximately 200 partners from 28 countries, including European and national authorities, universities and research institutes.

The unique thing about PARC is that the project is controlled by the authorities and also based on their need for new methods to be able to assess chemical risks. The ambition is to support the EU's chemicals strategy for sustainable development and the European Green Deal, a collection of political initiatives with the overall goal of achieving a toxic-free environment and a climate-neutral EU by 2050.

Patrik Andersson at the Department of Chemistry and Maria Wennberg at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine receives just over SEK 3,7 million for their contribution to the project via the call Partnerships in health.

Cluster 4: Digital, industry and space

AEQUITAS

AI-based decision support systems are increasingly deployed in industry, in the public and private sectors, and in policy-making. The AEQUITAS project wants to create a platform to make sure that these systems neither build on nor reinforce prejudice, bias and discrimination.

One of the main principles of Trustworthy AI promoted at EU level is fairness. But, how to translate this into technical, functional and lawful requirements in the AI system design is still an open question. Similarly, we do not know how to test whether an AI system is compliant with these principles and how to repair it in case it is not.

To assess and counter biases in AI systems, AEQUITAS proposes to create a controlled experimentation environment for developers and users. Here, real use cases in, for example, health care and human resources will test the experimentation platform, showcasing the effectiveness of the solution proposed. The goal is to be able to find effective ways to mitigate bias and to provide fairness-by-design guidelines, methodologies, and software engineering techniques for designing new bias-free systems.

AEQUITAS relies on a strong consortium of AI experts, domain experts, social scientists and associations representing minorities and at-risk groups.

Virginia Dignum, Lili Jiang and Andrea Aler Tubella at the Department of Computing Science are granted roughly SEK 4,9 million for their work in AEQUITAS via the call A human-centred and ethical development of digital and industrial technologies.

Cluster 6: Food, bioeconomy, natural resources, agriculture and environment

BEPREP

The BEPREP project aims to help prevent future pandemics. To do so, the researchers will both study and identify best practices for biodiversity recovery and public health interventions that can reduce disease risks.

Epidemics and pandemics are often caused by zoonotic and vector-borne emerging diseases, i.e., infections transmitted via animals, ticks or insects. As natural ecosystems are disrupted by, for example, deforestation and climate change, these threats to our health and welfare are predicted to become even worse.

A key to preventing future disease outbreaks is believed to be biodiversity. Consequently, thousands of projects are now underway worldwide to restore nature in an attempt to secure it. The problem is that we lack knowledge of whether these restorations actually interrupt the chain of infection and mitigate the risk of disease, or rather amplify it. We also do not know the success factors characterizing restorations that mitigate disease risk. BEPREP wants to fill that knowledge gap.

Through experiments and field studies in both Europe and the tropics, the researchers will shed new light on the reasons why diseases spread, as well as ways to interrupt transmission routes and promote healthy ecosystems.

Joacim Rocklöv at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine is granted nearly SEK 7,1 million for his part in the project via the call What else is out there? Exploring the connection between biodiversity, ecosystem services, pandemics and epidemic risk.

Mission: Cancer

PANCAID

Pancreatic cancer (PDAC) is often detected at a late stage and most patients die within one year of diagnosis. To improve the odds, the PANCAID project will develop a blood test for early detection of PDAC.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. However, the tumor often grows silently for a long time, which means that there is an opportunity for early diagnosis. The PANCAID project hopes to provide this by developing a ground-breaking blood test.

Since small tumors only release small amounts of detectable cells or cellular products (e.g., DNA, RNA, and protein), the test must be very sensitive, but at the same time very specific. Otherwise, there is a risk of false-positive blood tests, which can lead to unnecessary stress for the individual and high costs for the health system.

To achieve this goal, the researchers in PANCAID will analyze large cohorts of patients with PDAC and its precursor lesions, individuals at risk of developing PDAC, and appropriate age-matched control groups. By using, among other things, an AI-assisted computational analysis, the aim is to identify the best composite biomarker panel that can diagnose pancreatic cancer with high precision.
 
Daniel Öhlund at the Department of Radiation Sciences and Malin Sund at the Department of Surgical and Perioperative Sciences are granted over SEK 2,3 million for their part in the PANCAID project via the call Develop new methods and technologies for Cancer screening and early detection.

Partnerships

CEEC

The Center of Excellence for Exascale CFD (CEEC) specializes in the area of numerical simulations for turbulence. The consortium consists of partners from nine universities and research labs across Europe, with experience in different aspects of computational fluid dynamics (CFD).

Using computer simulation has become an increasingly common tool for developing advanced products such as aircraft. Anyone who has ever flown knows that there can be turbulence, air currents that spin and twist with varying strength and direction. Today there are methods to calculate this seemingly unpredictable phenomenon, but they are complex and require a lot of computing power. Exascale computing offers such supercomputer performance. 

The CEEC is motivated by the following high-level goals:

  • Implement exascale-ready workflows for addressing relevant challenges for future exascale systems and emerging technologies, such as quantum computing.
  • Facilitate significant improvement of energy efficiency by means of exploitation of accelerated hardware architectures, mixed-precision calculations, and high-fidelity physical modeling.
  • Develop new or improved algorithms that can exploit upcoming exascale architectures, investigating data-driven methods such as AI-based and large-scale optimisation.
  • Demonstrate workflow on lighthouse cases relevant for both academia and industry, exploiting the various exascale algorithms developed in CEEC.

Roman Iakymchuk, Martin Berggren and Paolo Bientinesi at the Department of Computing Science are awarded nearly SEK 11,3 million for their part in CEEC via the call European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking

INNOVATIVE EUROPE

European Innovation Council (EIC)

iSenseDNA

Understanding how a specific molecule performs during complex biological processes is a challenge in biomedical research, despite extensive advances in recent years. The iSenseDNA project wants to develop technology that can identify what a change in a molecular structure means for its function.

Today, there are techniques to study the function of a molecule during a biological process, and there are techniques to study the detailed structure of molecules. But no one succeeds on a large scale in connecting structure with function. This makes it difficult to predict which structural changes are needed to improve, for example, drug development. It's a bit like using pictures of ice skaters to learn how to play hockey.

Based on that analogy, the iSenseDNA project is about creating an opportunity not only to learn how to play hockey, but also to understand which muscles we should train to become better hockey players. The researchers will combine state-of-the-art computational, biotechnological and optical methods as tools for advanced analysis of biomolecules "in action". Together they want to develop a so-called nano-transducer, a DNA-based sensor that is sensitive to structural changes and can read these in real-time. This has the potential to extract otherwise well-hidden information about complex biological and chemical processes, which will eventually contribute to advances in medical diagnostics and treatment.

Nicolò Maccaferri and his group at the Department of Physics receive close to SEK 5,3 million for their part in iSenseDNA via the call EIC Pathfinder Open.

EUROPEAN HEALTH PROGRAMME

EU4Health

OACCUs

The OACCUs project wants young cancer patients to not only survive their illness, but also to have the conditions for a long and fulfilling life. The plan is to educate young cancer survivors, their families and friends on the keys to a healthy lifestyle so that they in turn can support others.

At the beginning of 2021, the EU presented a new plan to fight cancer, Europe's Beating Cancer Plan. It includes various efforts in areas such as prevention and public health, early detection, care and good living conditions for those who have survived cancer. In the latter case, the project OACCUs plans to be a vital part.

Focusing on things like physical activity, psychoeducation, healthy eating and a healthy environment where interaction with others is central, OACCUs pursues the idea of ​​training young cancer survivors, their families and friends to act as ambassadors and coaches. This means that they, in turn, can create and maintain support networks for young people who have survived cancer in each of the seven participating countries. OACCUs has also developed an app to engage and connect youth participants.

Anna Nordström at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine is granted approximately SEK 2,2 million for her part in OACCUs from the call Action grants for the EU Network of Youth Cancer Survivors.