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Paul Wilmes receives ERC Consolidator Grant

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Published on Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Associate Prof. Paul Wilmes of the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) at the University of Luxemburg has received a prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant for his project “ExpoBiome”. Within this project, Wilmes will explore the interaction between microbial molecules and the human immune system in patients with Parkinson's disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

“I am confident that this novel research approach will lead to the discovery of new therapeutically important molecules and will also promote the development of innovative diagnostic applications,” Wilmes asserts. The ERC Consolidator Grant offers new prospects for renowned researchers at the top of their fields as an incentive to remain in Europe. Wilmes will receive two million euros over five years for the ExpoBiome project.

Paul Wilmes and his research group Eco-Systems Biology at the LCSB investigate the molecular interactions between the microbial community in the human gut and human cells. To this end, the researchers have developed a series of high-resolution measurement techniques that are now being deployed to study various diseases in the context of the ExpoBiome project. “For rheumatoid arthritis, we know for example that periodic fasting reduces symptoms in many patients. One hypothesis is that the activity of the microbiome is reduced due to the lack of nutrients and that this has a positive effect on the chronic inflammation characteristic of the disease. However, it is still unclear whether microbial molecules play a role and if so, which ones,” details Wilmes. He wants to find out whether fasting produces this beneficial effect by causing shifts in the microbial communities and the molecules they secrete. Paul Wilmes and his team will now be able to study the exact mechanisms of action thanks to the ERC grant.

As part of the ExpoBiome project, the LCSB researchers also want to explore the interplay between the microbial community in the gut and the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's. Scientists have known for some time that the microbiome influences this disease. "We want to understand the underlying mechanisms in more detail and look for new possibilities for diagnosing and treating this disease as well," says Wilmes.

This will be achieved, in part, with the help of a “Gut-on-a-Chip model”: in this device, specific bacteria from the gut microbiome can be cultivated together with human cells. "Thanks to our HuMiX model, we can determine which microbial molecules are formed in the gut and how they affect the course of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or Parkinson's." Wilmes and his team will especially look for molecules that possess anti-inflammatory properties. These can have a positive effect on the course of diseases and could be used therapeutically in the future.


“We share Paul Wilmes’ delight in his receiving the ERC Consolidator Grant,” says LCSB Director Prof. Rudi Balling. “He has a long-standing experience in the field of microbiome research and has earned an excellent reputation internationally. It is of tremendous value for the LCSB and the University of Luxembourg that this grant offers Paul the opportunity to continue his research in the Grand Duchy,” states Balling.

Paul Wilmes held an FNR ATTRACT Fellowship of the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) from 2010 to 2015.

Illustration: The gut microbiome and the molecules it produces. © Ella Maru Studio
Portrait: © Science relations