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Published: 2024-01-16

EU grants EUR 9.4 million to Umeå University's research

NEWS Truly sustainable light sources, tailored gene therapy viruses and a price tag on public health – these are just a few examples of the research projecs that have received positive feedback during the year on their applications for the 2022 EU calls.

Thirteen research projects will share over 9.4 million euros, currently equivalent to almost 106 million Swedish kronor.

The majority of these projects have received grants within the EU's largest framework, Horizon Europe, which encompasses calls for proposals ranging from health to space research. Within Horizon Europe, there are three main pillars:

  • Excellent science
  • Global challenges and European industrial competitiveness
  • Innovative Europe

These pillars are further divided into several more specific areas.

Two of the projects have received funding from the supplementary Digital Europe Programme, DIGITAL, which aims to make digital technology more accessible to everyone and disseminate research results within the EU.

If you want to learn more about the projects and the researchers, there are links to further reading for most of the projects.

Horizon Europe: Excellent science

ERC Starting Grant

ProFITGut: Bacterial impact on the molecular level

It is well known that bacteria play an important role in human health, and imbalances in the gut flora are connected to conditions such as diabetes. At the same time, current drug treatments often eliminate bacteria that we want to keep. This project gets down to the molecular level to lay the foundation for more precise treatment with fewer side effects. 

Bacteria produce different proteins, and in the ProFITGut project (Proteome-wide Functional Interrogation and modulation of Gut microbiome species), the researchers will investigate which proteins cause which health problems. To do so, they have selected 38 common gastrointestinal bacteria that they will expose to over 100 drugs. The drugs can interfere with the bacteria's protein production in different ways – by measuring which proteins a drug interferes with, the researchers can infer the proteins' functions. 

The researchers will also study how the proteins interact with each other, to get the full picture of the mechanisms. This knowledge then provides the basis for developing treatments that target only the desired bacteria, without disturbing the composition of the gut flora more than necessary. This provides a way to develop strategies for how to manipulate the intestinal flora in a rational way. 

André Mateus at the Department of Chemistry receives close to EUR 1,500,000 via the call ERC Starting Grant 2022, which is targeted towards talented young researchers.  

Further reading: Proteome-wide functional interrogation and modulation of gut microbiome species (ProFITGut) (umu.se)  

COPD-HIIT: Exercise for COPD patients

COPD attacks the lungs but is a systemic disease that has consequences throughout the body. In the COPD-HIIT project, researchers will investigate whether short-duration high-intensity training can counteract the effects on other organs. 

Finding novel efficient treatments that encompass more than the breathing organs is an urgent challenge in COPD treatment. Besides causing inflammations in the lungs, COPD also has adverse effects on the muscles, the heart and the brain. The question is if HIIT (high-intensity interval training) can counteract these effects.

Led by André Nyberg, an international group of researchers from different disciplines will pursue the answer. The group will carry out experimental and clinical studies to fulfill three purposes: 

  • Determine the effect of HIIT compared to current recommended treatment guidelines on muscles, heart, and brain structure and function.
  • Determine how exercise and inflammation impact the trajectories of reduced cognitive function and structural changes of the brain.
  • Develop a new method to investigate how the body signals at different intensity levels.

The group hopes that the project will result in a new way of treating COPD, optimizing treatment effects and enable more individuals with COPD to benefit from the treatment.

André Nyberg at the Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Physiotherapy Section, receives close to EUR 1,500,000 through the call ERC Starting Grant, that is targeted towards talented young researchers. 

Further reading: Research project site for COPD-HIIT

ERC Advanced Grant

InnovaLEC: Innovative light source

The light bulb is being phased out and we have gotten more efficient and versatile light sources, but there are still major sustainability issues in the life cycles of these new light sources. Researchers will now take the next step towards history's first truly sustainable light source technology, LEC. 

The efficient LED and OLED technologies have been a step forward in terms of sustainability. These light sources can also be used in more fields, for example medical technology and security. The problem is that these new light sources require large quantities of substances that the EU lists as "critical raw materials", meaning raw materials needed in many industries, which are difficult to replace and to which there is limited access. In addition, current recycling processes for these light sources are not good enough.

LEC, light-emitting electrochemical cell, is a new type of light source that does not depend on critical raw materials, toxic substances or energy-intensive manufacturing. In general terms, an electrochemical cell consists of two metals, combined with liquids or solids that allow electric charge to travel between the metals. Electrochemical cells can either use chemical reactions to create electrical energy (such as in batteries), or use electrical energy to create chemical reactions (such as electroplating). 

In the LEC case, a semi-conducting material is used to allow the charge to travel between the two metals. The process requires a "dopant", a substance that changes the conducting properties of the semiconductor. The problem is that the "dopant" has also been shown to quench the particles that are supposed to give light. In the project Sustainable light-emitting devices through control of dynamic doping, InnovaLEC, the researchers try to adapt the materials and the cell design so that this damping does not occur.

Ludvig Edman at the Department of Physics receives EUR 2,500,000 from the ERC Advanced grant, that is given out to established researchers who excel in their field. 

Profile: Ludvig Edman lays the foundation for new light sources with the patience of an elite athlete

Horizon Europe: Global challenges and European industrial competitiveness 

Cluster 1: Health 

COMFORT: Decision support system in cancer care

A lack of individual tailoring means that prostate and kidney cancers are often not treated in an optimal way, which is costly for both the healthcare system and the patient's health. The purpose of this project is to provide a trustworthy AI-based decision support system that will assist healthcare professionals in delivering enhanced treatment to improve the patient journey.

In the COMFORT project (COMputational Models FOR patienT stratification in urologic cancers), a group of international researchers will develop a decision support system that compiles different types of patient data and helps differentiate patients with different needs. 

The researchers have access to a variety of data from multiple sources, for example X-ray images, notes from visits and laboratory results – and also the world's largest database of prostate and kidney cancer patients to date, where doctors and other experts have tagged the patient data with comments. This database will be a great asset, as a challenge in similar projects often is that those building the models do not receive input from those with clinical knowledge. 

The results of the project will be confirmed in a large international study, while doctors' and patients' attitudes towards the tool will be investigated. 

Virginia Dignum and Lili Jiang at the Department of Computer Science receives EUR 729,000 through the call Tools and technologies for a healthy society.  

External site about COMFORT

MARCHES: A price tag on public health

There is a lack of standardised ways to include health effects in economic models. The aim of this project is to provide guidelines and unit prices that EU policy makers can use to literally take public health into account.

The research team behind MARCHES (Methods for Assessing the Real Costs to Health of Environmental Stressors) will conduct systematic reviews of the health effects caused by air pollution and nitrates in drinking water, and also try to create greater consensus on how to value premature deaths that are due to environmental factors.

The project's goal is to arrive at concrete standard prices for lost health. These prices can then be used systematically in economic evaluations before a decision is made at EU or member state level. The group will demonstrate its tool in case studies in six different European countries: Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Spain and Kosovo. 

Anna Oudin at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine receives  close to EUR 267,000 through the call Methods for assessing health-related costs of environmental stressors.  

External site about MARCHES

PANDASIA: Preventing the next pandemic

The covid-19 pandemic has made it clear that we need to be better prepared for when animal viruses start infecting humans. This project will make it possible to intercept the viruses before they cross the species boundary, partly by developing computational models, partly by increasing knowledge in known risk areas.

An international constortium with members from both Europe and Thailand will be working together in the project PANDASIA (Pandemic literacy and viral zoonotic spillover risk at the frontline of disease emergence in Southeast Asia to improve pandemic preparedness). The project will provide a framework that helps us understand the biology of viruses and how viruses interact with humans, animals and the environment. These insights will then be translated into prevention.

The central goals of the project are

  • to develop computational models that can predict when and where there is a risk that an animal virus may become zoonotic (begin to transmit between animals and humans)
  • to increase the knowledge among local groups and authorities in known risk zones, so that zoonotic viruses can be detected early or prevented from occurring.

PANDASIA targets Southeast Asia, but in the long run the method could also be used in other known risk areas.

Henrik Sjödin at the department of Public health and Clinical Medicine receives just over EUR 314,000 through the call Pandemic preparedness

External site about PANDASIA

VALESOR: Interactive assessment of health and finances

There is a lack of a universal method for accounting for the health and economic effects that environmental pollution has. The VALESOR group wants to change this, by developing an interactive web tool where stakeholders can evaluate the effects that their planned actions would have.

The VALESOR project (valuation of environmental stressors) focuses on "stressors" in our environment, factors that stress our bodies and thus make them more strained. The group will investigate various chemical stressors that people are exposed to through air, water and soil.

The researchers will map what types of knowledge that are required to provide a good basis for calculating how stressors affect health as well as economy. They also want to be able to include more health effects than those usually included today.

The efforts will result in an interactive web tool, where legislators and business owners can evaluate how their plans affect health and the economy. The web tool will provide answers based on the latest research and will be continuously improved, as we learn more and more about the impact of stressors.

Another part of the project is to actively seek out stakeholders, partly to convey how important it is to take environmental stressors into account, partly to pave the way for using the same evaluation method regardless of area.

Johan Nilsson Sommar at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine receives just over EUR 330,000 through the call Pandemic preparedness.

External site about VALESOR

Cluster 4: Digital, Industry and Space

SovereignEdge.Cognit: Capacity as a service

Using a "cognitive cloud", app developers will have entirely new possibilities to build solutions that are not limited by the capabilities of a single device. This new technology aims to make Europe less dependent on American tech giants like Microsoft and Google. 

The Cognit project builds on previous EU initiatives. Researchers and app developers collaborate in a consortium featuring ten organisations from six different member states. The goal is to connect all types of Edge and IoT devices – from smoke sensors to central cloud servers – in a single continuous network where they can leverage each other's capacity and data. This AI-enabled framework will ensure that resources within the network are distributed in the smartest possible way at any given time. The solution is referred to by researchers as the "cognitive cloud". 

The cognitive cloud will be available as an affordable “Function as a Service”, providing app developers with the opportunity to create applications that give users smart and efficient access to far more capacity than what is available in their own devices. It will also guarantee each user's right to their own data and be able to identify and address security threats. 

This technology can be used in, for example, smart cities, autonomous vehicles, or to monitor real-time energy production and consumption. 

Paul Townend at the Department of Computing Science receives just over EUR 720,000 through the call Cognitive Cloud: AI-enabled computing continuum from Cloud to Edge (RIA).    

External site about SovereignEdge.Cognit

ELIAS: Ethical AI for the future

We are facing major challenges, in the form of both climate change and energy crises. The ELIAS project thinks that AI can help us face them, provided that we take ethics and societal issues into account in the process. The project strives to unite basic academic research with the more application-focused research carried out in industry.

Within the project ELIAS (European Lighthouse of AI for Sustainability, where “lighthouse” is the EU term for a forerunner that shows the way), the researchers will carry out basic research on AI in the service of sustainability. ELIAS builds on ELLIS (European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems), a very successful research network with a similar focus.

The ELIAS project will answer questions about how AI can be used to

  • reduce the costs of computer calculations
  • build models that simulate the effects that political decisions have on society
  • influence individuals.

ELIAS will also support, among other things, AI researchers and "sciencentrepreneurs", people who work in the borderland between scientific innovations and business life. The project will give rise to collaborations across subject boundaries, partnerships between industry and academia, heavy publications, patents and new technology.

Virginia Dignum at the Department of Computing Science receives just over EUR 161,000 through the call A human-centered and ethical development of digital and industrial technologies 2022. 

External site about ELIAS

Mission: Healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters

LOCALITY: Algae as a raw material

The LOCALITY project will tackle climate change challenges through innovative and sustainable algae-based solutions. Researchers and companies will explore together how algae may give us the sustainable raw materials we need, while industrial waste can come to a new use as nutrition for the growing algae.

In the LOCALITY project (Nature-positive aLgae-based fOod, agriCulture, AquacuLture and textIle producTs made in North and Baltic Sea ecosYstems), the products of three different ecosystems will be in focus:

  • new plant-based ingredients for fighting sea lice infections in aquaculture
  • novel food products for human consumption
  • ecological dye for the textile industry.

This international project contains different tasks, where Umeå University will lead the consumer-related task. This task has two main components:

  • evaluating consumer attitudes, acceptance and trust towards algae based products
  • evaluating the sensory performance of products developed for human consumption.

Armando Perez-Cueto at the Department of Food, Nutrition and Culinary Science receives close to EUR 345,000 through the call Actions for the implementation of the Mission Restore our ocean and waters by 2030.  

External site about LOCALITY

Horizon Europe: Innovative Europe

European Innovation Council (EIC)

iAds: Targeted gene therapy

Gene therapy could treat diseases that are difficult or impossible to treat today. Unfortunately, the therapy is still difficult to target correctly and can have very negative side effects on the patient. A group of European experts will now take on that challenge. 

Gene therapy involves introducing new genetic material into a patient. A critical component of the treatment is the "container" that can transport the new genetic material into the patient's cells. These containers are called vectors and often consist of viruses. 

In the last twenty years, scientists have learned a lot about which properties of the vector viruses that are beneficial, but also a lot about which properties we should avoid. So far, it has not been possible to find vectors that allow healthcare professionals to focus the treatment only on the organ they want to treat – and if the genetic material ends up in the wrong place, it can have major negative effects on the patient.

Experts from Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Spain are now taking a completely new approach to this. In the project Intelligent design of adenovirus vectors (iAds), the researchers will integrate data-driven and knowledge-driven research to design viruses that are free of all unwanted properties. Then they will adapt this designer virus so that it targets a certain organ, with the goal of giving patients an effective and gentle gene therapy treatment.

Niklas Arnberg at the Department of Clinical Microbiology receives just over EUR 429,000 through the call EIC Pathfinder open 2022.


EUCAIM: Cancer knowledge collected

Using AI and medical imaging data, currently fragmented across the world, the Cancer Images Europe (EUCAIM) project wants to advance the field of cancer diagnostics and treatment. 

Cancer Images Europe (EUCAIM) is a flagship of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. Its purpose is to provide a robust, trustworthy platform for European researchers, clinicians, and innovators to access diverse cancer images and related information such as laboratory results and pathology. This will enable the benchmarking, testing, and piloting of AI-driven technologies toward precision medicine, diagnosis, treatment and predicitive medicine, benefiting patients across Europe. 

EUCAIM builds upon five previous EU projects under the AI4HI umbrella (Artificial Intelligence for Health Imaging), and is a collaboration between 76 partners with experts in 17 countries. The project tackles legal, ethical and technical issues at a European level, to make sure that the platform is adapted to the different regulations and conditions of all countries. 

Katrine Riklund at the Department of Radiation Sciences receives in total close to EUR 662,000, out of which half comes from The Digital Europe Programme (DIGITAL) through the call Cloud data and TEF, and half comes from Vinnova.

External site about EUCAIM

DC4EU: Mobile rights and merits

To facilitate flexible free movement within Europe, we need secure digital ways to show not only who we are, but also what we have achieved and what we are entitled to. The DC4EU project will investigate how we can bring, for example, our academic credentials and our European health insurance cards with us digitally.

The EU regulation eIDAS (electronic IDentification, Authentication and trust Services) regulates electronic identification and so-called "trusted services", i.e. services that create or manage electronic signatures. Thanks to eIDAS, companies and citizens in the EU can use electronic signatures and e-identifications to do business and access online services in a faster and safer way throughout the EU.

The Digital Credentials for Europe (DC4EU) project goes a step further and will explore ways to prove which credentials and benefits that are associated with an individual. 80 organisations from 23 European countries will work together, focusing on creating technical conditions and a framework for trust in two areas: education and social benefits. More specifically, the project will focus on academic qualifications, professional qualifications, the European Health Insurance Card and the PDA1 (a document for employees who have been posted to another EU country).

The researchers will develop large-scale pilot projects and give recommendations to, for example, member states and the organisations that issue the various documents.

Staffan Ekstedt at the ICT Services and System Development unit receives a total of just over EUR 640,000, out of which half comes from The Digital Europe Programme (DIGITAL) through the call Accelerating best use of technologies, and half from other financiers.

External site about DC4EU