Dr Athena Akrami selected for ERC Consolidator Grant
European Research Council funding to fuel Akrami lab research on ‘prior’ circuits in the brain
The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre at UCL is delighted to announce that Athena Akrami, SWC Group Leader, has been selected by the European Research Council (ERC) to receive a Consolidator Grant.
“I am so grateful to receive this grant. It will enable my lab to take bolder steps in discovering how the brain computes and implements different algorithms for statistical learning. This is an ambitious project crossing three different species – humans, mice and rats. I am thankful to everyone in my lab and excited that we can continue this important research,” said Athena Akrami.
The award of €2 million over five years will enable Athena to continue to pursue her long-term research endeavours on statistical learning and its interaction with working memory. The funding will allow the recruitment of two postdoctoral fellows and a research technician for five years.
“Without this grant, we would have only focused on a couple of very concrete stories, but now this funding will allow us to continue a large, cross-species project looking at the computations and neural circuitry underlying learning and exploiting sensory statistics,” explained Athena Akrami.
The environment around us is complex but full of regular structures. Athena’s lab studies how statistical learning of these regular structures enables the brain to form ‘priors’ for different contexts. These ‘priors’ help us make better decisions. In the past few years, the Akrami lab has established a cross-species foundation to study sensory statistics in various working memory, perceptual and decision-making behaviours, by adapting for the first time, comparative paradigms for rats, mice and humans.
The Akrami lab plan to continue this comparative approach, to look at the similarities and differences between these three different species. In humans, they will focus largely on behaviour and its algorithmic computations. In rats and mice, they hope to carry out both electrophysiology, to monitor the neural dynamics, as well as perturbations, to look at causation, in both species. This will allow them to see which computations correspond to which neural circuitry. They aim to build a multi-level understanding of how the brain learns and uses sensory structures, by combining highly quantifiable behaviours in rodents and humans, as well as measurements and perturbation of neural circuits in the rodent brain, with various modelling approaches.
The ERC Consolidator Grant will also enable the Akrami lab to hire a dedicated research assistant to help with the new addition of a high-throughput behavioural training facility, affectionately known as the “Mouse University”, alongside the existing "Rat University".
Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “I extend my heartfelt congratulations to all the brilliant researchers who have been selected for ERC Consolidator Grants. I'm especially thrilled to note the significant increase in the representation of women among the winners for the third consecutive year in this prestigious grant competition. This positive trend not only reflects the outstanding contributions of women researchers but also highlights the strides we are making towards a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.”
President of the European Research Council Prof. Maria Leptin said: “The new Consolidator Grant winners represent some of the best of European research. It is disappointing that we cannot support every deserving project simply due to budget constraints; around 100 proposals identified as excellent in our rigorous evaluation will be left unfunded. Can Europe afford to let such talent go unrealised? We need to collectively advocate for increased investment in research and innovation. Our shared goal must be to ensure that no brilliant idea goes unfunded in Europe, and no promising career is left unfulfilled.”
To find out more about the Athena’s research, please visit the Akrami Lab page
About Athena Akrami
Athena Akrami joined the faculty at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, UCL, in October 2018. She obtained her BA in Biomedical Engineering from Tehran Polytechnic (Amirkabir University of Technology) and her PhD in Computational Neuroscience from International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA, Trieste), with Alessandro Treves. She was a postdoctoral fellow at SISSA where she worked with Mathew Diamond, and then at Princeton University where she was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellow and worked with Carlos Brody on working memory and prior representations.
About the ERC
The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation. The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council. Since November 2021, Maria Leptin is the President of the ERC. The overall ERC budget from 2021 to 2027 is more than €16 billion, as part of the Horizon Europe programme, under the responsibility of European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Iliana Ivanova. For more information on the ERC winning projects, please visit:
The statistics and list of successful candidates are provisional. The European Commission and the UK Government have reached an agreement in principle on the association of the UK to Horizon Europe. This means that the UK will be formally associated to Horizon Europe as of 1 January 2024 and that the association would apply only for award procedures implementing 2024 budget and onwards. Entities established in the UK can continue to apply to Horizon Europe grant award procedures funded from budget appropriations of year 2023 but they will not be covered by the association of the UK to Horizon Europe and thus they will not be eligible to receive EU funding. For this and other calls from the 2023 Work Programme, the transitional arrangement applies and the recommended for funding UK-based applicants may receive EU funding if they choose to transfer their proposal to an eligible Host Institution.
For more information or to speak to Athena Akrami, please contact:
- April Cashin-Garbutt
Head of Research Communications and Engagement, SWC
E: firstname.lastname@example.org T: +44 (0)20 3108 8028