European Research Council awards Advanced Grant to Prof. Huc

May 09, 2022

The European Research Council awards three prestigious Advanced Grants to LMU scientists, among them Prof. Huc from the Department of Pharmacy

(c) Jan Greune LMU

Professor Ivan Huc is Chair of Chemical Biology for Drug Research in the Department of Pharmacy at LMU. His main research focus is on creating artificial molecules with folded shapes out of simple building blocks – so-called foldamers, which mimic natural models and the form and function of which can be controlled by chemists.

Many essential biological processes are based on the binding of proteins to DNA. To dock with DNA, the proteins must recognize its spatial structure – the famous double helix – and surface characteristics. Using synthetic molecules to influence this binding could open up new therapeutic approaches and yield better insights into biological processes. However, suitable molecules for that purpose have been lacking.

This is what Huc is seeking to remedy with his new project, FOLOF (Aromatic Foldamer Mimics of B-DNA: Targeting the Alpha-Helix). Based on so-called aromatic oligoamide foldamers, he wants to develop molecules that simulate the surface of particular double-helical DNA sequences. Specific proteins can then bind to these DNA mimics – thus hijacking them from their natural DNA binding partner. To achieve this goal, Huc proposes to expand his chemistry tool box to enable specific design objectives. He also intends to identify structural features that will help proteins bind to the mimics and optimize the design and synthesis of the synthetic molecules. Through a strategic combination of chemical synthesis, computational predictions, crystallographic structural analysis, binding studies, and screening tools, FOLOF will bring the production of abiotic molecular mimics of nucleic acids to a completely new level and further expand the potential and application possibilities of foldamers.

Ivan Huc studied chemistry at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris. Having obtained a doctorate from the University of Paris for work carried out at ENS and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Frenchman pursued his carreer at Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg. After that, he started his independent research at the CNRS at the European Institute of Chemistry and Biology (IECB) in Bordeaux. Subsequently he became co-director there and also fulfilled that role at the Institute of Chemistry and Biology of Membranes and Nano-Objects, Bordeaux, before moving to LMU in 2017. Having previously received an Advanced Investigator Grant from the ERC in 2012, this year’s grant is his second such distinction.

LMU professors Klaus H. Goetz, Jonathan Harrington, and Ivan Huc were successful in the latest round of ERC grants, each obtaining an Advanced Grant. Jonathan Harrington is the first researcher at LMU to have received three ERC Advanced Grants. Ivan Huc receives it for the second time.

In each case, the award comes with funding of up to 2.5 million euros (in certain exceptional cases: 3.5 million euros). ERC Advanced Grants are aimed at established researchers from all disciplines whose highly innovative work pushes beyond the current frontiers of research and opens up new domains of investigation.