La Sapienza - Università di Roma

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Five New Projects by Sapienza Principal Investigators

Sapienza University of Rome continues to be the top Italian university, also in terms of European funding for research projects. In fact, the European Commission has approved five projects submitted by Principal Investigators at Sapienza University as part of the ERC Programme, three Starting Grants and two Proof of Concept Grants.

The three Starting Grants, reserved for researchers with 2-7 years post-doctoral experience, were assigned to:

  • Project "DarkGRA" presented by Prof. Paolo Pani, Department of
  • Project "HANDmade" presented by Prof. Viviana Betti, Department of
  • Project "SymPAtHY" presented by Daniela Carnevale, Department of Molecular Medicine

The two Proof of Concept Grants, reserved for researchers who have already obtained an ERC Grant, were assigned to:

  • Project "ADMIRE" presented by Prof. Roberto Di Leonardo, Department of Physics
  • Project “INVICTUS” presented by Prof. Carlo Massimo Casciola, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Project DarkGRA will investigate gravitational waves, a discovery that opened a new era in Physics, disclosing the unexplored regime of “severe gravity” in which the space/time curve is extreme and speeds in play are close to those of light. In addition to countless astrophysical applications, this discovery may also have important implications for fundamental physics. More specifically, Project DarkGRA will study new phenomena that affect the most extreme gravitational sources: black holes and neutron stars. These objects are real "cosmic labs" through which we can investigate the limits of Einstein's General Relativity Theory, the nature of the horizon of events in a black hole, and the mysterious properties of dark matter pervading our universe.

Project HANDmade focuses on the study of the intrinsic fluctuations in brain activity and how behavioral and mental activity changes based on how we interact with the external environment. The project focuses on the hypothesis that intrinsic activity maintains an internal model of the surrounding environment developed by integrating information derived from both visual and physical inputs. In this context, the hand plays a special role as it is the main means of interaction with the environment. The project examines the resilience of the internal model to extreme body manipulations and, through a combination of behavioral, cinematic, functional neuroimaging approaches (fMRI and MEG) and virtual reality, aims to gain a greater understanding of how synergistic body activity and the environment model behaviour and neural activity.

Project SymPAtHY is a multidisciplinary project aimed at understanding how the nervous system and the immune system interact with arterial hypertension, one of the major causes of global morbidity and mortality. The project will dissociate the molecular mechanisms responsible for the interaction of these systems, both in the etiopathogenesis of hypertension and in determining the consequent organ damage and increased cardiovascular risk. The project is based on an innovative vision of hypertension, which considers disregarding the immune response as a crucial element of the disease and not just as a parallel phenomenon linked to the damage caused by chronically increased pressure levels. SymPAtHY will help pave the way for the development of new therapeutic approaches to modulate the immune response involved in the pathophysiological processes underlying the increase in pressure values.

Project ADMIRE was born from ERC Starting Grant Project "SMART" and the assumption that virtual reality, increased reality and mixed reality will revolutionize the way we explore, learn, communicate and transform the physical world around us. At the same time, the availability of powerful, compact and cost-effective computing resources combined with the development and diffusion of digital devices for modulation and light detection is revolutionizing the way we explore, manipulate and transform the world into the microscale.  Project ADMIRE will combine these two worlds by creating an enhanced microscopic reality system where the user will virtually shrink one million times and be transferred into a microscopy slide, where he or she will be surrounded by moving cells that can be characterized with morphometric and dynamic measurements through simple gestures and eye movements. 

Project INVICTUS (IN VItro Cavitation Through UltraSound) was born from Project Bubbles from Inception to Collapse (BIC), funded by the ERC-AdG 2013 programme. The project addresses a crucial issue in the field of central nervous system disorders: the presence of medicines that can overcome the hemato-encephalic barrier. Before proceeding with costly and problematic ethical studies, economically viable tools are desirable. INVICTUS develops an immediately available biomimetic microfluidic platform for biologists, clinicians and pharmacologists that exploits the improvement in the permeability of the endothelium through cavitation bubbles and provides an integrated and low-cost platform to develop cavity-assisted drug delivery protocols. INVICTUS has crucial new features such as the three-dimensional geometry of natural size vascular channels with a true endothelial barrier, a correct infiltration rate, an adequate physiological cutting effort, and biochemical interactions in the presence of different, healthy, and diseased tissues.