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Beatriz Rico awarded ERC Advanced Grant


Professor Beatriz Rico has been awarded a prestigious Advanced Grant by the European Research Council for research into how early sensory experiences affect efficiency of cortical networks and ultimately, behaviour.

Beatriz Rico, Professor of Developmental Neurobiology in the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology and MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders said:

“In this unprecedented time, it is difficult to find the right words. I am very grateful to the European Research Council for its support and recognition of basic science. Scientific knowledge is the best tool we have to progress and fight any threats. This project will allow us to address a long-standing question, how early life experience influences brain development. In other words, why, for example, it is much easier to learn a motor skill or a language as children than as adults.”

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. ERC Advanced Grants support outstanding investigators who are established research leaders with an internationally recognised track record of research achievements. At the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, we now have three ERC awardees, and this is the second ERC award obtained by Professor Rico.

The grant, EXPERIENTIA, will support research that aims to understand the impact of early sensory experience on inhibitory cortical circuits and identify the molecular mechanisms underlying these modifications. To do this, Professor Rico and her lab will rear groups of mice in an enhanced sensory experience environment and examine how this enhanced environment remodels cortical circuitries to improve behavioural performance in later tests.

A huge number of studies from psychology show that the quality of parent-child interactions is a good predictor for a range of psychopathologies in later life and we generally accept that children more easily and successfully acquire lifelong skills, than adults learning those skills for the first time. EXPERIENTIA addresses these phenomena and more, seeking to explain how the early sensory environment impacts later life at a cellular and molecular level.

The President of the European Research Council (ERC), Professor Mauro Ferrari, commented:

“I am glad to announce a new round of ERC grants that will back cutting-edge, exploratory research, set to help Europe and the world to be better equipped for what the future may hold. That’s the role of blue sky research. These senior research stars will cut new ground in a broad range of fields, including the area of health. I wish them all the best in this endeavour and, at this time of crisis, let me pay tribute to the heroic and invaluable work of the scientific community as a whole.”

He added “In this grant competition, we noted a drop in number of UK-based grantees, which reflects the recent decline in applications from the UK. Collaboration is one of the biggest gifts we have in science and I am hoping for the best for our future relationship with the UK.”