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ERC Starting Grant for three UT scientists

The European Research Council honoured the applications of three UT researchers for an ERC 'Starting Grant'. The 'early career' grants go to Dr Guillaume Lajoinie, Dr Tim Segers and Dr Saskia Kelders, who are all part of UT’s TechMed Centre. Each researcher will receive an amount of €1.5 million for a five-year period. A total of 408 starting grants have been awarded in Europe with a total value of €636 million.

Diagnostics by listening to bubble echoes

Dr Tim Segers

Currently, local blood pressure measurement is only possible through the invasive insertion of a pressure-sensitive catheter. A tumour is also often invasively diagnosed based on a biopsy. Tim Segers wants to develop microbubble sensors to enable non-invasive blood pressure and biomarker sensing using ultrasound. To do so, his research will focus on advanced microbubble coating materials. He uses microfluidic methods to produce up to 1 million size-controlled microbubbles per second. Thereby, he aims to understand how the coating properties of the bubbles can be controlled such that the bubble echo becomes sensitive to both blood pressure and specific binding of the bubble to diseased tissue.

Engagement with digital mental health treatments

Dr Saskia Kelders

Millions of people struggle with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Effective treatments exist, but they are not accessible to everyone. Digital mental health treatments can play an important role in this. They are treatment methods delivered via the internet or apps. However, effectiveness varies enormously between individuals. Saskia Kelders wants to address this problem by focusing on engagement. Whereas much research on digital mental health treatments looks at the average effect at a group level, Kelders wants to make it possible to measure real-time engagement of individuals. This should lead to personalised and customisable digital treatment methods with better outcomes.

Ultrasound with super-resolution

Dr Guillaume Lajoinie

Our healthcare system is under unsustainable strain owing, largely, to cardiovascular diseases and cancer. For both, imaging vasculature and flow precisely is paramount to reduce costs while improving diagnosis and treatment. Specifically, the focus is on the multiscale aspects of shear, vorticity, pressure and capillary bed structure and mechanics. However, this requires an imaging depth of 10 cm with a resolution of 50 μm. Furthermore, velocities often exceed 1m/s, which requires a frame rate of 1000 frames per second. Existing imaging modalities have so far not been able to reach spatiotemporal resolution and there is thus a dire need for new techniques.

Plane-wave ultrasound enhanced with contrast microbubbles outperforms all modalities in safety, cost, and speed, and is thus the ideal candidate to address this need. The strategy of Super-FALCON harnesses the nonlinear dynamics of ultrasound contrast agents and the power of artificial intelligence to recover super-resolved images of flow and vasculature. This would open unimagined possibilities for diagnosis and initiate a paradigm shift towards patient-specific treatments.

About ERC

The European Research Council funds talented young researchers to set up an independent research project. The ERC offers four central grant schemes (Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants) and an additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme. These grants enable researchers to launch pioneering research.