ERC Starting Grant worth over 2M Euros awarded to the University of Trieste for Pierangelo Gobbo’s project PROTOMAT

The University of Trieste has been awarded its first ERC Starting Grant by the European Research Council (ERC) as part of the Horizon Europe framework. Pierangelo Gobbo, having worked in various institutions around the world, has chosen the University of Trieste (UniTS) to develop the first fully synthetic cells capable of integrating with living cells and tissues.

Dr. Pierangelo Gobbo.

With the support of Martina Piccoli’s research group based at the Fondazione Istituto di Ricerca Pediatrica Città della Speranza in Padua (Italy), this five-year project aims at developing the first fully synthetic cells (or, “protocells”) capable of self-assembly into “protocellular materials”. These materials can mimic the properties of living tissues and are additionally capable of integrating and interacting both chemically and mechanically with living cells. This ambitious and highly innovative project will open a new line of research in bottom-up synthetic biology. Moreover, if successful, the synthetic tissues developed during the project will have important and innovative applications in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Like many other young professionals and students, Pierangelo Gobbo joined the ‘brain drain’ and moved abroad for further study. After his Master’s Degree at the University of Padua Pierangelo Gobbo obtained his PhD in Chemistry at the University of Western Ontario, one of the top 10 Canadian universities. In 2016, his research was awarded the most prestigious award that Canadian students can receive; the Governor General’s Gold Medal.  After his PhD, Pierangelo Gobbo was awarded two postdoctoral fellowships: the NSERC of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the prestigious Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship. These two Fellowships allowed him to continue his research experience at the School of Chemistry of the University of Bristol which is currently the top Department of Chemistry of the UK. It was here that he started his career as an independent researcher thanks to another important research grant, the New Investigator Award, which was awarded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. In 2021 Pierangelo Gobbo received the Ciamician Medal for Organic Chemistry awarded by the Italian Chemical Society. Following this international career, the UniTS succeeded in enticing him back to Italy where he will shortly open a new line of research into synthetic cells and tissues at the Department of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science of UniTS.

The full title of the five-year project is “PROTOMAT – Integrating non-living and living matter via protocellular material design and synthetic construction”. Of the project, the Rector of the University of Trieste, Roberto di Lenarda, commented: “PROTOMAT is the first ERC Starting Grant that has been awarded to UniTS within the Horizon Europe framework. The ERC Starting Grant is an extremely competitive scheme with a rate of success of only 10%. In 2021 4066 research proposals were presented and only 397 were funded, of these just 28 were awarded in Italy. We are proud to welcome PROTOMAT at UniTS and we will provide all the scientific support necessary for the development of such an important project”.

The Director of the Department of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Prof. Paolo Tecilla, added: “We welcome Dr. Gobbo and the PROTOMAT project enthusiastically into our academic community. This project showcases the efficiency of our recent efforts to improve  the University of Trieste’s international reputation.”

“This opportunity provided by the ERC is unique and matchless for me,” explains Pierangelo Gobbo, “I am proud to be able to bring my research to Italy and in particular to Trieste, where I am sure it will thrive thanks to Trieste’s rich and world-renowned research landscape”.

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