Albino Oliveira-Maia Receives ERC Starting Grant
The European Research Council (ERC) has announced the list of winners of the 2020 Starting Grants. This is a highly competitive funding scheme that selects promising early-career scientists who have generated outstanding supervised work, and who have come up with exceptional research proposals.
This list includes Albino Oliveira-Maia, the director of the Neuropsychiatry Unit at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Oliveira Maia was awarded 1.5€ Million to continue his ground-breaking exploration of the communication between the digestive and nervous systems. He is the first practicing physician in Portugal to be recognised by this prestigious award.
Oliveira-Maia and his team have recently identified a digestive-brain axis that controls food choice in mice. Their work revealed a learning mechanism orchestrated by the digestive and nervous systems that leads animals to actively seek out certain foods.
In this new project, called CalorieRL, Oliveira-Maia and his team will be building on these findings to investigate food choice in humans. After all, if our gut is capable of telling the brain which food is more nutritious, why do we often not listen? How loud is this message, and is it more or less forceful amongst different individuals? It is hoped that the project will shed some light on how and why we choose the foods that we eat, which may go some way in the ongoing battle against obesity.
“With this opportunity to perform state-of-the-art measurements and analyses of behaviour and brain activity, both of which we will record simultaneously in humans, we will be able to expand our research programme on visceral control of food reward to answer questions that cannot be addressed in animal models”, Oliveira-Maia explains. “Performing some of these experiments in humans is expensive, but we expect that it will contribute more meaningfully to address relevant problems for human health and medicine.”
Albino Oliveira Maia (centre left) and his team. Photo by: Alexandre Azinheira.