This background note provides details of the 14 projects that have been selected for the shortlist of this year’s Descartes Prize (see IP/05/914).
Identification of cancer predisposition genes and pathways of tumorigenesis
The CANCERGENES project made advances in mapping and cloning of cancer genes, including uncovering a new gene that could show if a person is likely to develop colorectal cancer. The researchers also mapped and identified the gene for another cancer syndrome, leiomyomatosis and renal cell cancer. This work provided links between deficient energy production and tumorigenesis. In addition, the study identified a new mechanism of disease severity based on somatic mutation spectra. Findings of this project have specific importance for cancer families and widespread general importance for understanding how cancer develops.
Field of research: Life Sciences
Project coordinator: Prof. Ian Tomlinson – London Research Institute, Cancer Research UK (CR-UK)
Partners: Prof. Lauri Antti Aaltonen, Helsingin yliopisto (UH.MCB), Finland
European Initiative on Primary Immunodeficiencies
Focused on primary immunodeficiencies that represent a large group of rare genetically determined diseases, the EURO-PID project deals with underlying genetic disorders of the immune system. The research group characterised over 20 molecular defects during the last five years. Their findings are a source of key results about T, B, and NK lymphocytes development and function, about regulation of homeostatis and interaction between innate and adaptive immunity. The researchers, representing a European task force in this field, believe that the findings of the project will continue to be translated to the benefit of patients in diagnostic tools and in new therapeutic developments.
Field of research: Life sciences
Project coordinator : Prof. Alain Fischer – Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM)
Prof. Jean-Laurent Casanova, University of René Descartes-INSERM Unit 550, France
Prof. C.I. Edvard Smith, Karolinska Institutet (KI), Sweden
Prof. Lennart Hammarström, Karolinska Institutet (KI), Sweden
Prof. Luigi Daniele Notarangelo, Universita degli Studi di Brescia (UNIBRE), Italy
Prof. Adrian Trasher, University College London (UCL), UK
Dr. Anna Villa, CNR Instituto di Tecnologie Biomediche (CNR-ITB), Italy
Climate and Environmental Change in the Arctic
The CECA project involves a number of multi-disciplinary research projects that have been carried out over the past decade on climate and environmental change in the Arctic. CECA has addressed environmental problems of pan-European relevance and significance. Scientific objectives of the research teams are centred upon a systematic and integrated analysis of diverse observational and model-generated data sets. The scientific breakthroughs and innovations resulting from CECA project have advanced the state-of-the art knowledge and understanding of the Artic climate-system and its influence on Europe.
Field of research : Earth sciences
Project coordinator : Prof. Ola M. Johannessen – Nansen Environmental and Remote (Norway)
Prof. Lennart Bengtsson, Max planck Institut for Meteorology, Germany
Dr. Leonid Bobylev, Scientific Foundation “Nansen International Environmental and Remote Sensing Centre”, Russia
European Social Survey – innovations in comparative measurement
The ESS, European Social Survey series project is a major collaborative project focused on charting and explaining long-run changes in the social, political and moral climate within and between the European Member States. Other aims of the project included transforming and spreading standards of rigorous in comparative social measurement in Europe and developing social indicators of national advancement that supplement existing indicators. Researchers believe that the impact of the ESS on European governance is likely to be profound. With ESS, Europe has for the first time an authoritative source of data about its changing social values which informs academic and political debate and enables the EU to measure changes in values of its citizens.
Field of research : socio-economic sciences
Project coordinator : Prof. Roger Jowell – City University, Northampton Square (UK)
Prof. Peter Mohler, Zentrum fuer Umfraged, Methoden un Analysen (ZUMA), Germany
Ms. Ineke Stoop, Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (SCP), The Netherlands
Prof. Willem Saris, Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA), The Netherlands
Prof. Jaak Billiet, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL), Germany
Mr. Bjorn Henrichsen, Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD), Norway
Dr. Henk Stronkhorst, European Science Foundation (ESF), France
Extending Electromagnetism through Novel Artificial Materials
The research team created and developed a novel class of artificial metamaterials, called Left-Handed Materials (LHMs) or Negative Index Materials (NIMs), which have fascinating properties including negative index or refraction, inverse, Doppler and Cerenkov effects, vacuum impedance matching possibility and imaging not constrained by the diffraction limit. They also have the ability to reverse a basic feature of light. The researchers were able to demonstrate the reality of LHMs and their consistency with the basic laws of physics. This realisation has opened up the possibility of unprecedented applications and devices including sub-diffraction limited imaging, entirely new sub-wave length devices, miniature antennas and waveguides and artificial magnetic materials for MRI applications.
When one creates a new material that scatters electromagnetic radiation in a unique manner, some useful purpose can be found. We can envision, for example, uses in the cellular communications industry, where novel filters, antennas, and other electromagnetic devices are of great importance. Even slight improvements to these devices can make a significant financial impact.
Field of research : physics
Project coordinator: Prof. Costas Soukoulis – Foundation for Research and Technology (FORTH) – Greece
Prof. Ekmel Ozbay, Bilkent University, Turkey
Prof. John Brian Pendry, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, South Kensington Campus, UK
Prof. Martin Wegener, University of Karlsruhe (TH), DFG-Center for Functional Nanostructures (Karlsruhe-CFN), Germany
Prof. David R. Smith, Duke University, United States
Computer graphics access for blind people through a haptic virtual environment
The goal of the GRAB project was to enable visually impaired persons to have access to the three-dimensional graphic computer world through the senses of touch and hearing by means of a new Haptic & Audio Virtual Environment. Researchers developed a system by which users can explore and interact with 3D virtual objects using their fingers. Tests of the system by blind people to evaluate the usefulness and potential of these developments confirm the validity of the system.
Field of research: information sciences
Project coordinator : Ms. Teresa Gutierrez – Fundacion Labein, Parque Tecnologico de Bizkaia (Derio – Spain)
Dr. Carlo Alberto Avizzano, Scuola Superiore di Studi Universitari e di Perfezionamento S. Anna, Italy
Mr. Jose Luis Fernandez, CIDAT-ONCE, Spain
Mr. Steven Tyler, Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), UK
Ms. Blaithin Gallagher, National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI), Ireland
Ms. Fiona Slevin, Haptica Ltd, Trinity Enterprise Centre, Ireland
The HESS experiment: revolutionizing the understanding of the extreme universe
The HESS collaboration was formed to produce an instrument which would be the world leader in the domain of high-energy gamma-ray astrophysics. The design was based on proven technology and technical and experimental approaches develop by the research teams, which were combined together to provide an instrument that enabled them to explore the most extreme objects in the universe. The results of the project have allowed the collaboration to revolutionise the understanding of our universe as viewed in gamma rays, producing the first-ever gamma ray images of astronomical objects and the first scan of a large region around the centre of our galaxy.
Field of research : physics
Project coordinator : Prof. Stavros Katsanevas – Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) – Paris, France
Dr. Michael Punch, Institut National de Physique Nucléaire et de Physique des Particules, France
Prof. Werner Hofmann, Max-Planck-Institute für Kemphysik, Germany
Dr. Paula Chadwick, University of Durham, UK
Prof. Thomas Lohse, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Dr. Philippe Goret, Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique, Centre de Saclay, France
Prof. Goetz Heinzelmann, University of Hamburg, Germany
Prof. Stefan Wagner, Universität Heidelberg, Germany
Dr. Hélène Sol, Institut National des Sciences de l’Univers
Prof. Reinhard Schlickeiser, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany
Prof. Luke O’Connor Drury, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Ireland
Prof. Ladislav Rob, Institute of Particule and Nuclear Physics (IPNP), Charles University, Czech Republic
Prof. Ocker Comelis de Jager, North-West University, South Africa
Identités, démocratie et équilibres de l’Europe
The aim of the IDEE project was to study the links between national identity, European identity and the democratization process in Europe and to find if there was not in the shadow of democracy a sort of new European equilibrium coming in the framework of European integration. The impact of this research should be important for experts, journalists, civil servants and politicians interested in European issues.
Field of research: Socio-Economic Sciences
Project coordinator : Prof. Robert Frank – Unité Mixte de Recherche “identités, Relations Internationales et Civilisations de l’Europe” – CNRS (UMR IRICE) Paris – France
Partners: Prof. Hartmut Kaelble, Humboldt University, Berlin
Portraying the Effects of Nuclear Receptors in Health and Disease
The objective of the Pathfinder consortium was to understand the role of nuclear receptors (NRs) in both healthy and disease development. Since NRs are often targets for chemical contaminants present in dietary products, Pathfinder’s results provide critical information that can help protect the general population from the negative affects of these contaminants. The results can also provide information that proves that European food items are safe to consumers, thus offering a competitive advantage to the European food industry. Furthermore, the results of the project are involved both in the characterization and development of new pharmaceutical compounds that can be of great value for the European economy. A major factor behind the success of the project was the complementarity and synergy between the different groups of the consortium.
Field of research: life sciences
Project coordinator : Prof. Jan-Ake Gustafsson – Karolinska Institutet (KI-Biosci), Sweden
Prof. Vincent Laudet, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (ENSL), France
Prof. Barbara Demeneix, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France
Ass. Prof. Hilde Nebb, University of Oslo (UiO), Norway
Dr. Sari Mäkelä, University of Turku (U.Turku), Finland
Prof. Edison Liu, Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), Singapore
Phospholnositide 3-kinase as Target for Treatment of Chronic Inflammatory Disease
The PITCID research team developed a novel approach for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases. The project has generated a vast amount of biological data and small molecule inhibitors, which were successfully tested in models of rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus, a disease that causes the body to attack its own tissues. In addition, the efforts of the research team validated new drug targets in inflammation, allergy and cardiovascular and autoimmune disease.
Field of research: life sciences
Project coordinator: Prof. Matthias P. Wymann – University of Basel (UniBas) – Switzerland
Prof. Reinhard Wetzker, Klinikum der Universität Jena (KUJ), Germany
Prof. Emilio Hirsch, Dipartimento di Genetica, Biologia e Biochimica (DIPGEN), Italy
Prof. Bart Vanhaesebroeck, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR), United Kingdom
Dr. Christian Rommel, Serono Pharmaceutical Research Institute, Serono International S.A., Switzerland
Prof. Ana C. Carrera, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC), Spain
Pulsar Science in Europe: The Impact of European Pulsar Science on Modern Physics
Pulsars are rapidly rotating neutron stars whose observation offers the unique opportunity to study some of the most extreme physical conditions in the universe. Highlights of the research teams’ work include precision tests of theories of gravity and the discovery of nearly 800 pulsars, doubling the number that had been discovered in the whole world 30 years prior to the start of this collaboration. The height of the researchers’ activities is undoubtedly the discovery of the first double pulsar.
Field of research: Physics
Project coordinator : Prof. Andrew Lyne – University of Manchester, Jodrell Bank Observatory (JBO) – United Kingdom
Prof. Nicolo D’amico, INAF Osservatorio Astronomico di Cagliari, Italy
Dr. Axel Jessner, Max planck Institut fur Radioastronomie, Germany
Dr. Ben Stappers, ASTRON, The Netherlands
Prof. Ioannis Seiradakis, University of Thessaloniki, Greece
Natural Tannin Based Adhesives For Wood Composite Products Of Low Or No Formaldehyde Emission
The Tannin Adhesives project resulted in a series of discoveries in the reaction of the natural tannins extracted from the waste bark of trees with a variety of cross-linking agents. A series of industrial plant trials has confirmed the industrial applicability of these tannins as wood panel adhesives. There are many applications for this type of adhesive in the European market since they are non-toxic and work more quickly than comparable adhesives. In addition, they are environmentally friendly, used waste natural material to produce value added industrial products that can be used in a vast wood panels industry that consumes more than 3 million tones of synthetic adhesives per year.
Field of research : ENGINEERING
Project coordinator : Prof. Antonio Pizzi – Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Technologies des Industries du Bois, Université de Nancy 1 (ENSTIB) – France
Dr. Frederic Pichelin, Hochschule für Architektur, Bau und Holz (HSB), Switzerland
Dr. Gianpaolo Benevento, Silvachimica S.r.l, Italy
Dr. Masafumi Nakatani, Sekisui Chemical Co, Japan
Chemical morphogenesis: Turing patterns and beyond
Diffusion, a process that usually wipes out any heterogeneity in the concentration of chemicals, can paradoxically lead to well organised concentration patterns, once it is associated to the right chemical reactions. Such a mechanism might be responsible for some aspects of shape and pattern development in biological systems. This reaction-diffusion patterning mechanism in chemistry and biology was initially proposed, in 1952, by the British mathematician Alan Turing. However, evidence that such patterns can develop in real systems was only provided nearly 40 years later, when the joint research of the Bordeaux/Brussels team produced these long awaited unambiguous experimental demonstrations of Turing patterns. The research results of the team are the first clear experimental demonstration that Turing’s conjecture is not just a theoretical mirage and could really be at work in natural systems.
Field of research : physics
Project coordinator : Dr. Patrick De Kepper – Centre de Recherche Paul Pascal / CNRS (CRPP) – Pessac, France
Partner : Dr. Pierre Borckmans, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
Self-assembled nanoparticles and nanopatterned array for high-density magnetorecording
The Project was aimed at designing and producing high density (200 Gbits/in2) nano-patterned magneto-recording media, using nano-lithographic techniques and environmentally friendly chemical self assembling of nano-particles. The final goal was the production of a Lab-demo hard disk with the desired density, the evaluation of its performances and industrial exploitation of the results. By grouping skills from 6 European countries, the Consortium brought together in a multi-disciplinary approach, partners specialised in different aspects of recording media fabrication advanced nanolithography and new nanopatterning techniques and experts of the whole hard disk drive system, among others. The exploitation of the final products of the project is expected to give impulse to markets in the information storage field, in particular to the disk drive industry.
Field of research: engineering
Project coordinator : Dr. Dino Fiorani – Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) – Roma, Italy
Dr. Dimitrios Niarchos, National Center of Scientific Research “Demokritos” (NCSR “D”), Greece
Dr. Elizabeth Tronc, Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), France
Dr. Fernando Briones, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France
Dr. Giancarlo Faini, Laboratoire de Photonique et de Nanostructures, France
Prof. Josef Fidler, Vienna University of Technology / Solid State Physics (TUW), Austria
Mr. Hartmut Rohrmann, Unaxis Balzers AG, Liechtenstein
Dr. Giorgio Betti, STMicroelectronics SRL (STM), Italy