4 new projects funded by European Research

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Genoa (Italy) February 7and2022 – Ilka Kriegel, Monica Gori, Paolo Decuzzi and Antonio Bicchi are the ITI researchers rewarded today by Proof of concept (PoC) Subsidies speak European Research Council (ERC); they will each have €150,000 to bridge the gap between the results of their pioneering research and the first phases of its commercialization. Their projects have in common the importance of developing new technologies likely to have a positive impact in our society, especially where weaknesses appear. Therefore, the objective of their projects is to realize new technologies to respond to deficiencies that can occur in people’s lives affecting their health, such as tumors, blindness and amputations, but also new techniques to replace raw materials that the electronics industry uses but may not be available in the future.

the The ERC announced today the list of 166 ERC winners who have won Proof of Concept Grants, for a total investment of 25 million euros. 22 projects will be funded in Italy, being the second country, after the United Kingdom, to receive the highest number of PoC grants in Europe.

The Proof of Concept grant program is open only to researchers who are or have been previously funded by the ERC. They use PoC funding to develop discoveries they have made during research projects funded by their ERC Starting, Consolidator, Advanced or Synergy Grants.

Ilka Kriegel was the recipient of the ERC Starting Grant in 2019 and is currently the coordinator of the Functional Nanosystems laboratory at IIT in Genoa. It will use its additional ERC grant to develop new transparent conductive inks for use in applications ranging from flat panel displays, flexible displays, touch screens, thin films or organic photovoltaics. The idea is to substitute critical raw materials, such as indium tin oxide (ITO), which is a very promising material due to its well-established properties, but which risks being too expensive and be too rare in the future. Therefore, Kriegel’s goal is to invest in good alternatives from non-critical raw materials. His project, CONDINKS, aims to develop conductive inks from non-critical raw materials with properties competing with reference systems. CONDINKS will develop new synthesis strategies that exploit nanoscale dopant engineering and translate these results to industrial environments using water-based (and therefore non-toxic) flow synthesis processes for the the scale.

iReach is the name of Monique Gori, which will focus on the realization of a multisensory system to help visually impaired infants train their sensorimotor skills from the first months of life. Gori leads the laboratory of the Unit for Visually Impaired People (U-VIP) at IIT in Genoa, which studies how sensory and perceptual abilities change and interact during development in children with and without disabilities, in order to develop rehabilitation technologies. She was the recipient of an ERC Starting Grant in 2020 and the ERC PoC grant will allow her to further develop her technologies, offering them for commercialization. Therefore, visual impairments affect infants’ motor and reaching skills, spatial perception, play, socialization, physical functioning, psychological well-being, and health service needs. Effective rehabilitation technologies for improving the skills of visually impaired infants critically depend on a better understanding of the neuroscientific bases of multisensory and body processing. However, to date, these abilities can only be assessed qualitatively based on observational approaches. With iReach, Gori aims to solve this problem, designing and developing a multi-sensory system that will provide non-invasive recording and training of sensorimotor skills in visually impaired infants.

Paolo Decuzzi won the ERC PoC grant for his invention “microMESH”, which originated from research activities carried out in his previous ERC-funded projects and consists of a micro-sized polymeric net to be wrapped around brain tumours. Decuzzi is founding director of the Nanotechnology Laboratory for Precision Medicine at IIT Genoa and the main research theme of his project is the treatment of glioblastoma, which continues to be the least curable form of any cancer with a survival overall average of 20 months from diagnosis. . Decuzzi and his interdisciplinary team will work to prove that microMESH can be engineered to intracranially deploy chemo-immuno-combination therapy to eradicate glioblastoma and minimize its lifelong complications. MicroMESH was explicitly designed to geometrically conform to tumor margins and integrate with the malignant mass, in order to increase the permeation of therapeutic agents, and therefore their efficacy. Success of the project will result in pre-clinical testing and, once appropriate toxicology and manufacturing studies are completed, moving to Phase 1/2 clinical trials. Along the way to the clinic, microMESH is supported by advisors from the Deloitte HealthBiotech Accelerator and the SPARK Stanford Program in Translational Research.

Other fragilities, such as amputations, are at the heart of Antonio Bicchithe project. Bicchi coordinates the Soft Robotics for Human Cooperation and Rehabilitation Lab at IIT Genoa and he has received several ERC grants, including an ERC Synergy Grant in 2018 for the Natural BionicS project, focused on arm prostheses with “natural” characteristics . The new ERC PoC grant will help translate the scientific and technological advances of this project into one of the very first practically applicable force/tactile display systems for prosthetics to add a kind of “sense of touch”. Historically, prosthetics have focused on the motor aspect, paying attention to the design and control of artificial limbs to recover manipulative or locomotion abilities as much as possible. Much less has been achieved to date in terms of reproducing the ability to sense interactions with the environment, other people, and one’s own body through the haptic channel. Bicchi’s new project, named WISH – Wearable Integrated Soft Haptic – aims to realize a new wearable fluidic force feedback device limb prosthesis, composed of soft silicone chambers with their actuation and control units, to exercise pressures in several specific stump sites. The ultimate goal is to turn WISH into a technology platform supporting different devices for different types of prostheses available on the market, for upper and lower limbs.


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