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Translational research

Driving next generation autophagy researchers towards translation

Project Main Objective

The goal of DRIVE was to train through research 15 early stage scientists (ESRs) on applied autophagy research. Ultimately, DRIVE has the ambition to foster the European-wide growth of applied and translational autophagy research, and accelerate the establishment of clinical-grade solutions for the benefit of millions of patients.

Project Funding

This project is receiving funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Innovative Training Networks (ITN) Call: H2020-MSCA-ITN-2017. Overall budget€ 3 890 064,96

Project Partners

• University Medical Center Groningen, NL (ESR1 and ESR15) • Institut Necker Enfants-Malades, Paris, F (ESR2) • University of Turku, FI (ESR3) • The Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, IS (ESR4) • University of Oslo, N (ESR5) • Medical Center – University of Freiburg, D (ESR6) • Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), E (ESR7 and ESR13) • Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, D (ESR8) • The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, UK (ESR9) • Kings College London, UK (ESR10) • Anaxomics Biotech SL, Barcelona, E (ESR11) • Fraunhofer IME ScreeningPort, Hambourg, D (ESR12) • Adjuvantis SAS, Lyon, F (ESR14)

Contact Details

Fulvio Reggiori, Prof. Ph.D Department of Biomedical Sciences of Cells and Systems, University Medical Center Groningen T: +31 50 361 6163 E: W: reggiorigroup/

This changes the metabolism of the cell, a topic which Professor Reggiori and his colleague are investigating in the project, while there are also sub-projects on a variety of other topics. While each of the ESRs within DRIVE are working on a specific, highly specialised research project, Professor Reggiori says they also gain a deeper awareness of challenges in the drug development process. “The students have gained knowledge of all the different phases in translational research, the entire drug development pipeline. But they specialised in autophagy,” he explains. While the Covid-19 pandemic has limited the amount of time the ESRs could spend at other laboratories or with the project’s associated partners, they have been able to build strong bonds both with their peers and supervisors. “The students are all pulling in the same direction and they met in the first year of the project, while they also have a connection with the different supervisors,” says Professor Reggiori. These connections will stand the ESRs in good stead for their future careers, whether that lies in academia, the commercial sector, or somewhere else entirely. As an

ITN, the project has focused primarily on training students and investigating how research advances can be translated into therapeutic improvements. “We want the students to have the ability to enter industry with the competencies they need to work in drug discovery,” outlines Professor Reggiori. Whatever direction they choose to take, the skills the ESRs have gained and the connections they have established in the project will be very beneficial, believes Professor Reggiori. “They will have a network of people who they can turn to for help, support and collaboration, to ask questions about certain assays and biomarkers, which is invaluable,” he says. The project partners have also established strong collaborative relationships, and Professor Reggiori says there is interest in establishing a successor project. “We’ve had preliminary discussions. We would like to continue and to push it more towards translation - maybe we could look to narrow the research focus,” he continues. “Maybe by combining our different types of expertise, we can establish a new ITN where we focus on solving, or challenging one or two specific diseases.”

DRIVE Early Stage Researchers

Prof. Fulvio Reggiori PhD

Fulvio Reggiori studied biochemistry at University of Fribourg (CH), where he also obtained his PhD in Biochemistry. Subsequently, he had postdoctoral experiences at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge (UK), and the Life Sciences Institute of the University of Michigan (USA). As an independent researcher, he was first at University Medical Center Utrecht (NL) and then at the University Medical Center Groningen(NL). His research interests are connected with the mechanism and functions of autophagy.


There were fifteen early stage researchers (ESRs) in DRIVE (https://drive-autophagy. eu/), working on a wide variety of projects, from fundamental research on autophagy, to investigations into the physiological aspects of autophagy, through to the development of treatments for specific conditions. The ESRs were hosted by project beneficiaries from across Europe, with the shared goal of moving autophagy research towards translation. These projects can be divided into four major areas characterizing translational research. Four of the projects (ESRs 1, 5, 6 and 15) were investigating fundamental aspects of autophagy by studying the mechanism underlying this pathway, while three were centered on the physiological aspects of autophagy, namely its specific roles in determined cells and tissues (ESRs 7, 8 and 9). One project (ESR 7), for example, involved looking at autophagy in the development of the retina, research which

holds wider relevance to our understanding of glaucoma. A further four projects (ESRs 2, 3, 4 and 10) were about autophagy in a pathological context, with researchers using models to gain deeper insights into defects in autophagy that lead to specific diseases. This included mouse models for hereditary spastic paraparesis (SPG49) and the VICI syndrome, two pathologies associated with dysfunctional autophagy. Finally, there were also four projects in DRIVE (ESRs 11, 12, 13 and 14) in which the aim was to develop improved treatments, with researchers looking to find modulators for autophagy and also mitophagy, the selective type of autophagy involved in the turnover of dysfunctional or superfluous mitochondria. With this broad scope, researchers ultimately aim to bring the prospect of improved treatments based on autophagy a step closer.

EU Research