In its sixth and last Advanced Grant competition under the EU's FP7, the European Research Council (ERC) is awarding Prof. Pablo Artal from Murcia in Spain to the topic:
"Photonics to see through cataractous eyes"
Cataracts is the opacification of the crystalline lens of the human eye. It is one of the leading causes of blindness. The current solution is to perform surgery to replace the natural lens by an artificial intraocular lens, an operation that is quite successful, but not possible in several cases. We will work on a totally new approach that would enable patients to “see” through a cataractous eye. We will use advanced photonics techniques for creating images through the cataractous lens. Opto-electronics glasses would be developed to restore vision in some patients. Since light trajectories are reversible, doctors could also see the patient's retina through the turbid eye. This innovative project could present immediate and significant benefits to millions of people worldwide.
An eye with a cataractous lens produces blurred images on the retina, represented on the top of the figure in the image of the girl (actually a picture of my daughter Lucia when she was probably 5 or 6 years old…). By applying photonics techniques (somehow similar to advanced adaptive optics) our aim is to produce clear images (image of the girl) on the retina similar as those in normal eyes (with clear lenses).
In these times of budget restrictions for science in many counties, and specially here in Spain, having this grant from the ERC is very important for my lab. I am grateful that the project was considered interesting and now, more than ever, I am personally committed to try to use the funds efficiently to provide returns to the society.
As a complementary note, I feel that is also quite important that researchers in peripheral (scientific) areas of Europe (as myself) should have an increased presence in these grants. I fully understand the criteria of “excellence”, but it is likely that often the host institution, when is not among one the most prestigious, may be a serious handicap for good individual researchers.
The European Research Council's (ERC) mission is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-initiated frontier research across all fields of research, on the basis of scientific excellence. The ERC complements other funding activities in Europe such as those of the national research funding agencies, and is a flagship component of the 'Ideas Programme' of the European Union's Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7).
Being 'investigator-driven', or 'bottom-up', in nature, the ERC approach allows researchers to identify new opportunities and directions in any field of research, rather than being led by priorities set by politicians. This approach ensures that funds are channelled into new and promising areas of research with a greater degree of flexibility.
More information on the ERC-Website