ERC Consolidator Grants For Two Heidelberg Researchers

Press Release
Heidelberg, 10 December 2019

ERC Consolidator Grants For Two Heidelberg Researchers
Maria Ivanova-Bieg and Carmen Ruiz de Almodóvar funded by European Research Council

Two researchers from Heidelberg University are each being recognised with an ERC Consolidator Grant, a highly endowed award from the European Research Council (ERC) for excellent researchers in Europe. In her ERC-funded project, Associate Professor Dr Maria Ivanova-Bieg from the Institute of Prehistory, Protohistory and Near-Eastern Archaeology will study sustainability in Europe’s first agrarian societies. Biochemist Prof. Dr Carmen Ruiz de Almodóvar from the European Center for Angioscience of the Medical Faculty Mannheim will investigate the crosstalk of the vascular system with the cells that produce myelin in the central nervous system. For Prof. Ruiz de Almodóvar this is her second successful bid for ERC funding; she previously received a Starting Grant. The two projects will receive a total of approximately four million euros from the European Research Council.

In the “Sustainability of Agriculture in Neolithic Europe” (SUSTAIN) project, Dr Ivanova-Bieg and her team, together with cooperation partners, will consider the question of how the earliest agrarian societies in Europe established and maintained sustainable livelihoods. The researchers will explore data from archaeology, paleoclimatology, and paleo-ecology and conduct analyses on stable isotopes and molecular residues from prehistoric animal and plant remains as well as ceramics. Using habitat- and agent-based models, the team intends to explore the relationships between the environment, agricultural practices, and society. At the same time, they will test hypotheses on the value of social cohesion, mobility, diversity, and ecological responsibility for the sustainability of Neolithic societies. Cooperation partners from the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research in Frankfurt along with the University of Bristol and the University College London (Great Britain) will assist with the project, whose funding totals approximately two million euros.

Maria Ivanova-Bieg studied history and archaeology at the St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria. She earned her doctorate in 2007 at the University of Tübingen for her dissertation on prehistoric archaeology and was awarded a travel scholarship from the German Archaeological Institute. She continued as a postdoctoral researcher in Tübingen, and then joined Heidelberg University and the German Archaeological Institute in Frankfurt. She habilitated at Ruperto Carola in 2012. Since 2013, she has taught and researched at the Institute of Prehistory, Protohistory and Near-Eastern Archaeology, where she most recently led the international “Food Cultures” cooperation project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). In 2019, Dr Ivanova-Bieg received funding from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the DFG for two additional research projects on the Neolithic period in South-East Europe and the Mediterranean region.

In her project entitled “The Oligo-Vascular Interface: Understanding its Properties and Functions” (OLI.VAS), Prof. Ruiz de Almodóvar and her research group will study the molecular interactions between blood vessels and oligodendrocytes – glia cells that produce myelin in the central nervous system. The disruption of myelin production leads to serious diseases like multiple sclerosis. Recent research indicates that blood vessels do not only supply oxygen and nutrients but also actively regulate organ development and function. In this regard, Prof. Ruiz de Almodóvar’s team identified that signals coming from vessels directly control the generation of oligodendrocyte precursor cells at a so-called oligo-vascular interface. By applying a multidisciplinary approach, the researchers plan to identify molecular interactions between blood vessels and oligodendrocytes during development, homeostasis and in conditions of demyelinating diseases. The European Research Council has approved approximately two million euros for this project.

Carmen Ruiz de Almodóvar studied biochemistry at the University of Granada in Spain and earned her doctorate in 2004 at the Institute for Parasitology and Biomedicine in Granada, which is linked to the Spanish Council for Scientific Research. As a postdoctoral researcher she worked at the Vesalius Research Center of the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology and the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. She joined Heidelberg University in 2011 as head of a junior research group at the Biochemistry Centre. In 2012, she was awarded an ERC Starting Grant to investigate the molecular mechanisms regulating blood vessel growth and patterning in the central nervous system. Carmen Ruiz de Almodóvar is currently a member of the Vascular Biology and Medicine focus area at the Medical Faculty Mannheim. She has held the professorship for Vascular Dysfunction since September 2018 and is also director of the same-named department at the Faculty’s European Center for Angioscience and the Institute for Transfusion Medicine and Immunology.

The Consolidator Grant is given to outstanding researchers whose own independent working group is in the consolidation phase. Scientific excellence is the main criterion.

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