Marie Curie in her laboratory

Marie Curie: Inspiring millions, advancing European science

She received two Nobel Prizes, has served as an inspirational figure to countless women (and men) in science, and has a Continent-wide fellowship program named after her to promote the brightest scientific minds and innovations. The Marie Curie Fellowships, administered by the EU, are so prestigious that recipients regularly gush about its virtue as a career game-changer. Only 8% of applicants receive fellowships each year, but this low rate of acceptance does not deter scholars; on the contrary, says Jordi Curell Gotor, who oversees the Marie Curie Fellowships as Director Lifelong learning, higher education and international affairs, DG Education and Culture, European Commission. The number of applications continues to rise annually. So far, 50,000 researchers from 120 nations have received these prestigious grants since the program’s inception in 1996.

At the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, several Fellows presented their research and it is clear they are well on their way to career success.

Ilja Voets, from the Universite de Fribourg, who has just accepted an assistant professorship in her native Holland, gave a talk on “Cluster, Glass, and Crystal Formation in Protein Mixtures of Opposite Charge”. She and her colleagues at the Adolphe Merkle Institute in Switzerland studied the phase behavior of proteins with opposite charges, an important area at the border of chemistry, physics and biology. This domain has previously not been significantly explored, and she and her team wondered why certain mixtures aggregate and even if they perhaps form glasses or other types of materials as they collide and combine. This is a crucial area of research, she said, in part because certain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and even cataracts, are impacted by protein aggregation, although scientists are not sure how the aggregation contributes to the disease. Her research could pave the way for better comprehension of this mystery.

Another early-career scientist, Michaela Schedel of Germany, presented new evidence concerning the presence of an “asthma gene” in children. She was part of a team that discovered the gene in 2007. Her recent research, funded by the Marie Curie Actions, has led her to believe that the gene has a connection to childhood asthma. “We have a first hint on the causal relationship between this gene, present on chromosome 17, and the development of asthma,” she stated in a press release and confirmed during her speech. Schedel, who began her research at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, and continued her work at the National Jewish Health Respiratory hospital in Denver, Colorado, is currently working at Hannover Medical School. The knowledge that she unlocked about the connection between this disease, which affects 100 million people in Europe and 300 million worldwide, and the gene could lead to novel therapies in the future.

Given the importance of the research conducted by both of these future technological leaders, I guess it’s no surprise that they have endeavored under the name of Marie Curie.

Alaina Levine

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