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19/12/2011 - Institutional news

Andrea Cerutti obtains the ERC Advanced Grant.

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded scientist Andrea Cerutti, an IMIM researcher and ICREA professor, an advanced grant, with funding of 2 million euros over a five-year period. The objective of the ERC Advanced Grant is to support excellent research projects in the field of science, which are highly innovative and led by prominent researchers with renowned international prestige, who may be from any EU member state or associated country. In this edition 2284 applications were received, from which 294 were granted. Out of these, 15 were Spanish, 7 of which were granted in Catalonia. By way of example, last year 2009 applications were presented and 266 grants were awarded to researchers in 21 countries, of which 13 were researchers working in Spain.

Andrea Cerutti, curriculum overview

Dr Andrea Cerutti, ICREA researcher, has led the IMIM research group on B cell biology since January 2010. He was an associate professor at Weill Medical College at Cornell University and is currently a Professor in Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. He is an associate editor of the journal Mucosal Immunology and the Journal of Immunology and an editor at other magazines including Nature, Science, Nature Immunology and Immunity.

His research is centred on the study of the mechanisms through which the innate immune system regulates immunoglobulin class switching, a process that lets the B cells generate antibody classes with new effector functions. Over the course of his career, he has been published in the most prestigious scientific journals, including Nature Reviews Immunology, Nature Immunology and Immunity.

The project

The objective of the winning project of the ERC Advanced Grant, ‘Signalling Networks in the Production of Antibodies for B Cells: New Targets for Vaccine Development’, is to investigate the cell signalling routes needed to induce the diversification and production of antibodies in B cells in the splenic marginal zone. These cells are reactive against encapsulated bacteria and other antigens that unchain an immune response that is independent to that of T lymphocytes. Blood-borne infections by bacteria such as Haemophilus influenzae (responsible for diseases including meningitis, bacteremia, osteomyelitis), Streptococcus pneumoniae (cause of pneumonias, sinusitis, peritonitis, meningitis and septicemias) and Neisseria meningitidis (responsible for the most epidemic meningitis) cause the deaths of millions of people every year. In the splenic marginal zone, the B cells are strategically situated between the immune system and circulatory system and quickly produce antibodies (IgM, IgG and IgA) against T-independent antigens (TI). The signalling route of this mechanism is still unknown.

The T-cell independent (TI) immune response is deficient in children and in individuals with asplenia (defective splenic functions), who therefore have a greater risk of infection and require vaccinations. However, existing vaccines are costly and only provide limited protection. Therefore, this research project shall be centred on formulating new vaccines with costs that are also assumable for developing countries and can assist in developing vaccines against other blood-borne pathogens, such as viruses. The research group on B-cell biology maintains that conventional neutrophils under the influence of signals derived from the microenvironment are differentiated in splenic neutrophils that, expressing BAFF, APRIL, CD40L and IL-21, then activate marginal zone B cells. A further aim of this group’s studies is to discover unknown facets of the biology of neutrophils, as well as a new immune route that involves an intimate reaction between the neutrophils and the B cells in the splenic marginal zone.

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