Research Headlines – How to protect privacy in the age of big data

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When companies collect and analyse data about consumer behaviour, they provoke profound questions about privacy rights. But a group of EU-funded researchers has struck a balance between privacy and the private sector. Their goal is to allow consumers to select the level of privacy protection that suits them best.

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‘Big data’ – the immense trove of information that corporations collect about customer behaviour – has the potential to offer customers exactly what they want, sometimes before they know they want it. But often, that data can be analysed to identify individuals and even to reveal the specifics of individual behaviour in ways that many people find alarming.

In response to concerns from privacy activists, and after years of preparation, the European Union began implementing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on 25 May 2018. GDPR is designed to preserve privacy rights by requiring companies to obtain a customer’s consent about how they use consumer data. Public confusion lingers, however, about how much information companies collect and how they use it.

An EU-funded research project called DAPPER has developed a method that could help to solve this most complex issue. The key is choice. Among other results, the DAPPER method allows companies to analyse consumer information, but only using a level of analysis that each consumer can select.

‘A capstone result of the project is the development of methods to capture information about correlations within data and use them to accurately reveal information about behaviour of users,’ says principal investigator Graham Cormode of the University of Warwick in the UK. ‘For example, results could be used to gather information about the correlation between smoking and lung disease, without revealing the smoking status or disease status of any individual.’

Mixing randomness with choice

One widely accepted method for guaranteeing strong privacy rights in big data analysis is called differential privacy. This introduces a random element into how an organisation accesses a client’s data, making it nearly impossible to reconstruct individual identity after analysing group behaviour.

The problem is that differential privacy assumes that all individuals have the same preferences. Some might allow for less privacy, if that meant better choices; some might demand total privacy.

Enter DAPPER. The project focused on four areas of research. The first, synthetic private data, proposes a new definition for digital privacy: personalised differential privacy, in which users specify a personal privacy requirement for their data.

Organisations – whether corporations, governments or university researchers – could analyse subject behaviour, but only using parameters that the subjects set themselves. The result allows customers to make their own privacy choices while giving companies the insight they need to offer better products.

Other research areas included correlated data modelling, which provides algorithms for analysing statistics while respecting privacy safeguards; data utility enhancement, which helps construct accurate graph-structured data while protecting privacy; and trajectory data, which developed a method for analysing GPS data about users while protecting information about an individual’s location.

A better balance

Project results should soon find their way into the private sector. ‘Methods for collecting data have been deployed by Google, Microsoft and Apple in recent years,’ Cormode says. ‘The methods we developed in this project have the potential to be incorporated into these systems, allowing the gathering of more sophisticated data on user activity while preserving privacy.’

Most of the project’s funds supported the research of two PhD candidates: Tejas Kulkarni at the University of Warwick, and Jun Zhang at the National University of Singapore. After Kulkarni has completed his dissertation, he will explore ways to safeguard privacy in machine learning.

DAPPER received funding through the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme.

Project details

  • Project acronym: DAPPER
  • Participants: United Kingdom (Coordinator)
  • Project N°: 618202
  • Total costs: € 100 000
  • EU contribution: € 100 000
  • Duration: April 2014 to March 2018

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Events – 3rd HBP Curriculum Workshop Series – New Horizons in Brain Medicine: From Research to Clinics – 3-5 July 2019, Innsbruck, Austria

The aim of this interactive workshop is to introduce and deepen the understanding of brain medicine for non-specialists with the most recent advances in research of neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Lectures and tutorials by international experts will report the state of the art of research and treatment of brain diseases.

Hands-on examples and practical tools and methodologies will be presented during a visit to lead laboratories at Medical University Innsbruck.

A student brainstorming session will be organised to allow exchange about concepts and methods. Application is open to the entire student community and early career researchers, regardless of whether they are affiliated with the Human Brain Project or not.

All early-career scientists are encouraged to participate and it is aimed to achieve equal representation of all sexes.

Application deadline: 29 May 2019

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Research Headlines – Microorganisms to clean up environmental methane

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Methane has a global warming impact 25 times higher than that of carbon dioxide and is the world’s second most emitted greenhouse gas. An EU-funded project is developing new strains of microorganisms that can transform methane into useful and bio-friendly materials.

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Methanotrophs are microorganisms that metabolise methane. They are a subject of great interest in the environmental sector, where the emission of harmful greenhouse gases is a major concern.

The EU-funded CH4BIOVAL project is working to develop new methanotroph strains that can more readily transform methane from the atmosphere into valuable user products. The CH4BIOVAL team is particularly interested in the potential of methanotrophs to produce large amounts of bio-polymers known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs).

PHAs include a wide range of materials with different physical properties. Some of them are biodegradable and can be used in the production of bioplastics. The mechanical properties and biocompatibility of PHAs can be changed by modifying their surfaces or by combining them with other polymers, enzymes and inorganic materials. This makes possible an even wider range of applications.

CH4BIOVAL researchers are also interested in another methanotroph by-product called ectoine. This is a natural compound produced by several species of bacteria. It is what’s known as a compatible solute, which can be useful as a protective substance. For example, ectoine is used as an active ingredient in skincare and sun protection products, stabilising proteins and other cellular structures and protecting the skin from dryness and UV radiation.

The CH4BIOVAL project is undertaking the isolation of useful methanotroph strains through conventional genetic selective techniques as well as state-of-the-art bioinformatic techniques. The latter involve the detailed analysis and modification of complex biological features based on an in-depth understanding of the genetic codes of selected strains.

By closely studying the metabolic characteristics of specific methanotroph strains, CH4BIOVAL scientists are identifying key genetic modifications that can improve their performance. Thus, the project is enabling both the abatement of an important greenhouse gas and the production of useful bio-consumables.

The project received funding from the EU’s Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions programme.

Project details

  • Project acronym: CH4BIOVAL
  • Participants: Spain (Coordinator)
  • Project N°: 750126
  • Total costs: € 170 121
  • EU contribution: € 170 121
  • Duration: September 2017 to September 2019

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Research Headlines – New cameras to make X-rays safer for patients

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CT scans have revolutionised the fight against human illness by creating three-dimensional images of the body’s inner workings. Such scans, however, can deliver high doses of radiation. Now EU-funded researchers have built special cameras that limit radiation while delivering images vital for patient health.

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Doctors have used computed tomography scans, or CT scans, to greatly improve the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. But a major problem limits their use: they deliver high doses of radiation that can harm patients nearly as much as their ailment.

Enter the EU-funded VOXEL project which set out to develop an innovative way to create three-dimensional imaging. The result is special cameras that can deliver 3D images but without the high doses of radiation.

‘Reports show that in Germany in 2013, although CT scans only represented 7 % of all X-rays performed, they conveyed 60 % of the radiation that patients received,’ says Marta Fajardo, project coordinator and assistant professor at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, Portugal. ‘We built several prototype cameras. As an alternative to CT, they enable 3D X-ray imagines in very few exposures, meaning less radiation for the patient.’

New perspective on 3D imaging

CT scans make images by taking thousands of flat, two-dimensional photos in order to reconstruct a 3D image. The problem is that each photo injects ionising radiation into the patient. As photos multiply, radiation levels rise.

To counter this, VOXEL’s breakthrough idea was to adapt a technique called plenoptic imaging to X-ray radiation. Plenoptic cameras capture information about the direction that light rays, including X-rays, are travelling in space, as opposed to a normal camera that captures only light intensity.

Because researchers can use the information about light direction captured by plenoptic cameras to reconstruct 3D images, there is no need to take thousands of 2D photos. Images of important structures like blood vessels can be made from a single exposure, lowering the average radiation dose significantly.

A major part of the work was using the right algorithms to manipulate the captured information. ‘First, we demonstrated that plenoptic imagining is mathematically equivalent to a limited-angle tomography problem,’ Fajardo says. ‘Then we could simply reformat plenoptic imaging as tomography data and apply image reconstruction algorithms to obtain much better images.’

But the biggest challenge remained engineering the cameras. ‘The higher the photon energy, the harder it is to manufacture the optics for a plenoptic camera,’ she says. ‘You need X-rays of different energies for different tasks.’ The solution was to develop one camera prototype that used lower-energy X-rays for tiny structures like cells and another that used higher-energy X-rays for larger objects, such as small animals or human organs.

Less radiation, healthier patients

While Fajardo is encouraged by the project’s results, work remains to be done. ‘The low-energy X-ray camera belongs to a niche market,’ she explains. ‘But the high-energy X-ray prototype has huge medical potential, although it still requires some development.’

Results from the project, which was awarded a Future Emerging Technologies grant, will soon be submitted for publication in the international science journal Nature Photonics.

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Project details

  • Project acronym: VOXEL
  • Participants: Portugal (Coordinator), France, Spain, Netherlands, Italy
  • Project N°: 665207
  • Total costs: € 3 996 875
  • EU contribution: € 3 996 875
  • Duration: June 2015 to May 2019

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Research Headlines – Agile auto production gets a digital makeover

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Global markets for cars are becoming increasingly competitive, forcing manufacturers to find cost savings while meeting greater demand for customisation. Advances in technology, known as ‘Industry 4.0’, make these seemingly contradictory demands possible. The EU-funded AutoPro project found a solution.

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Industry’s struggle to drive down costs dates back to the rigid assembly lines needed to maximise efficiency, an approach made famous by US auto-makers in the early 1900s. By design, this approach did not handle ‘variety’ very well.

While variety is more feasible today – both practically and economically – it gets more difficult as products become more complex and integrated. Structural rigidity makes it hard to cope with product-model changes, product-mix variations and batch-size reductions.

Heavy, time-consuming investment is typically needed to streamline assembly systems after changes are made because the software governing these processes cannot ‘visualise’ complex scenarios.

The EU-funded AUTOPRO project found an ‘Industry 4.0’ solution to help the automotive industry keep up with increasing demand for customised cars. An integrated, highly visual software application is at the heart of their system, making work flows more flexible or ‘agile’, even while accommodating more variants in the production system, and at the same time boosting productivity by 30-60 %.

Real-time shadows?

Arculus, the German SME behind the project, built up experience providing integrated ICT solutions that provide what they call a ‘virtual real-time shadow’ of all the elements in the production. This provides a much clearer overview of how certain key performance indicators are affected when changes are made in one or more elements.

The modular solution can work for any sector with multiple and complex work flows, but it is in car manufacturing, which is highly dependent on new technological processes to remain competitive, that Arculus expects the most enthusiasm.

By customising the navigation control and adding an enhanced interface and automatic communication protocol, Arculus’ platform is better equipped to help auto-makers change production parameters faster and more efficiently.

Prospects for this innovative solution are strong. The 2020 forecast global market for advanced manufacturing technologies is around EUR 750 billion. EU targets to increase industry’s share of GDP to 20 % by 2020, with the auto sector a stated pillar of the economy, provide valuable impetus as well.

Project details

  • Project acronym: AUTOPRO
  • Participants: Germany (Coordinator)
  • Project N°: 782842
  • Total costs: € 71 429
  • EU contribution: € 50 000
  • Duration: August 2017 to December 2017

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Research Headlines – Taming terahertz radiation for novel imaging applications

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An underexploited band of the electromagnetic spectrum is set to enable new imaging systems that are capable of peering into complex materials and the human body, thanks to innotivative research in an EU-funded project.

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Terahertz radiation falls between infrared and microwaves on the electromagnetic spectrum but is less widely used, due to a variety of key technological and practical challenges.

These waves can penetrate materials such as clothing or packaging but unlike X-rays, for example, THz radiation is non-ionizing, making it safe for living tissue. This means THz scanners could safely be used in airports to pick up the unique spectral signatures of several types of explosives, many compounds used in pharmaceutical ingredients and illegal narcotics.

An EU-funded initiative has now laid the foundations for transformative applications in biology, medicine, material science, quality inspection and security using this radiation. By testing novel solutions to efficiently harness the unique properties of THz waves, the THEIA project has driven important research in the field.

‘The results can be used to develop novel types of scanners or imaging systems,’ says Marco Peccianti, THEIA’s lead researcher at the University of Sussex in the UK. ‘Many complex materials possess unique fingerprints in the THz spectrum, including compounds such as polymers, proteins, amino acids, drugs or explosives. For instance, terahertz radiation will be of paramount importance in next-generation airport security scanners. Scanners based on THz radiation would increase our ability to recognise drugs, explosives and other illicit substances, with notable societal and economic benefits.’

Obstacles to be overcome

Other applications include analysing the composition of a wide range of complex materials, creating imaging systems to diagnose defects in manufacturing and peering inside building walls to detect structural problems. In medicine and medical research, imaging systems using THz spectroscopy, which can detect differences in water content and density of tissue, would provide an alternative means of looking inside the human body, particularly into some types of soft tissue to detect diseases such as cancer.

To bring these applications to fruition, several obstacles to efficiently exploit the properties of THz radiation need to be overcome.

In the THEIA project, the team devised a novel technique for channelling THz waves using waveguides, a structure that controls the direction and dimension of the waves. Instead of generating a THz wave and coupling it to a waveguide using a lens or similar optical components, the researchers developed a way to generate the wave directly inside the waveguide.

Improved speed and efficiency

‘The investigation has been performed by simulating the waveguide structure using high-performance computing solutions, and matching the prediction to experimental observations,’ says Peccianti. ‘Practically, we compared different technological solutions, from embedding wave generation in a high-performance waveguide to fabricating the waveguides with terahertz-emitting materials. The key result is the creation of an active terahertz waveguide system.’

The THEIA solution not only delivers a THz signal where needed, but also serves to remove many of the large and bulky components of existing THz systems. ‘This could potentially enable THz imaging to be used in ways that would previously have been impossible,’ Peccianti says.

Researchers are now focusing on improving the efficiency, speed and resolution of their THz imaging techniques in TIMING, a follow-up EU-funded project. The research will aim to develop a next generation of THz imaging devices as unique diagnostic tools to unambiguously discriminate molecular compounds with improved speed and resolution.

The THEIA project received funding from the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme.

Project details

  • Project acronym: THEIA
  • Participants: United Kingdom (Coordinator)
  • Project N°: 630833
  • Total costs: € 100 000
  • EU contribution: € 100 000
  • Duration: March 2014 to February 2018

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For a Strong Digital Europe – 10 September 2019, Brussels, Belgium

The 4th edition of the EIT Digital annual conference will gather more than 1,000 digital experts & opinion leaders on September 10 at The Egg in Brussels.
Inspiring speakers from politics, industry, research and academia will share their views on Europe’s challenges and opportunities on the global digital market, ground-breaking digital deep tech innovations and live demos will be on display at the Innovators’ Village, and participants find new collaboration and business partners in more than 500 matchmaking sessions.

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Research Headlines – Versatile nanoparticles take aim at complex bone diseases

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Multifunctional nanoparticles being developed by EU-funded researchers are set to revolutionise treatments for complex bone diseases, enabling novel therapies for hundreds of millions of people worldwide suffering from bone cancer, bacterial bone infections and osteoporosis.

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Diseases such as bone cancer and osteoporosis are frequently complex, with two or more disorders occurring simultaneously. To address the associated treatment challenges, the EU-funded VERDI project is developing an innovative multifunctional nanoplatform that would be capable of healing a number of currently hard-to-treat bone diseases using a unique, versatile and scalable system.

Led by Maria Vallet-Regi at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain, the project marks a significant milestone on the path to effectively deploying nanotechnology-based treatments in healthcare.

‘The idea is to create a toolbox in order to be able to select the appropriate building blocks of therapeutic agents and targeting mechanisms according to the disease being treated. This will enable us to customise nanoparticles specifically for each bone pathology, allowing the creation of a library of nanomedicines suitable for clinical trials and eventually clinical use,’ Vallet-Regi says.

Activated by a doctor

Using the toolbox, doctors would be able to deploy nanoparticles of mesoporous silica, a robust and versatile nanomaterial, as customisable carriers for treatments, such as antibiotics to treat infections or proteolytic enzymes to break up cancer cells.

These nanoparticles would then be injected into the patient, find their way to the afflicted area and be activated – providing targeted, effective therapy with lower toxicity and fewer side effects for people suffering from bone cancers, bacterial infections or bone density loss caused by osteoporosis.

Crucially, the nanoparticles carrying therapeutic agents must reach their targets, which requires the development and incorporation of compounds capable of targeting specific cells and penetrating cell walls or traversing the biofilms created by bacteria. The nanoparticles can then be activated by a doctor to release their load of therapeutic agents directly at the site of the diseased bone using external stimuli such as ultrasound, ultraviolet light or magnetic signals.

To treat osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease estimated to affect 200 million people worldwide, the VERDI team is planning to use the nanoparticles to deliver molecules capable of silencing certain genes associated with the disease in order to limit bone loss and promote bone formation. The nanoparticles will be designed with unique masking properties to enable them to penetrate the cell membrane and reach the cytoplasm inside. Early tests of a similar nanosystem in animal models in a separate project led by Vallet-Regi have already had highly promising results, demonstrating the accumulation of therapeutic nanoparticles at the site of neuroblastomas, a cancer that affects nerve tissue.

From research to healthcare

‘The challenges we are addressing are immensely varied, since we are tackling three different bone pathologies each with its own peculiarities,’ Vallet-Regi explains. ‘For example, in bone cancer we find heterogeneous tumour cells difficult to treat with only one drug; in bone infection, bacteria develop a biofilm that impedes antibiotics from reaching their target; and in osteoporosis we must deal with accelerated resorption, the breakdown of bone tissue.’

The researchers have filed two patents for their technology so far and are preparing to conduct clinical studies of the nanoplatform over the coming years, aiming for the eventual commercialisation of the system and its deployment in clinical therapy.

‘The development of a single technology for the treatment of three different but frequently associated diseases, particularly among elderly people, will favour the industrial scale-up process, promoting the transition of nanotechnology-based treatments from research to healthcare,’ Vallet-Regi says.

Project details

  • Project acronym: VERDI
  • Participants: Spain (Coordinator)
  • Project N°: 694160
  • Total costs: € 2 500 000
  • EU contribution: € 2 500 000
  • Duration: October 2016 to September 2021

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100% Renewable Heating & Cooling for a Sustainable Future – 28 October 2019, Helsinki, Finland

Original Sokos Hotel Presidentti The European Technology & Innovation Platform on Renewable Heating and Cooling (RHC ETIP) organises the event 100% RHC for a Sustainable Future, the opportunity for RHC experts to learn, network and present their RHC innovative projects.

Why joining?
The RHC ETIP gathers industry representatives, researchers and policy makers to network and exchange their expertise on RHC innovative projects, challenges and opportunities to thrive in the long term. 100% RHC for a Sustainable Future includes:
• The 100% RHC Workshop
• Call for projects Read more
• The 100% RHC Conference
• Agenda 
• An evening reception hosted by the Mayor of Helsinki at the City Hall.

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Research Headlines – Research to help battle breast cancer

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The ability to control key forces that drive biological functioning would be a boon for a number of medical fields. With a focus on breast cancer, an EU-funded project is bringing together different research communities to work towards understanding and controlling cellular mechanics.

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Mechanical forces are created inside the body through the action of specific molecular bonds. Being able to control these would enable a giant leap forward in fields such as oncology, regenerative medicine and biomaterial design.

Tapping the potential of cellular mechanics requires the development and integration of a number of disparate technologies. The EU-funded MECHANO-CONTROL project is addressing this challenge, assembling an interdisciplinary team to design and carry out pertinent research. The scientists involved are specifically targeting new ways to impair or abrogate breast tumour progression.

The project’s ultimate aim is to understand and learn to control the full range of cellular mechanics. To do so, scientists need to find new ways to measure and manipulate complex cellular processes – from the nanometre to the metre scale.

At all stages, the MECHANO-CONTROL team is integrating experimental data with multi-scale computational modelling. With this approach, the aim is to develop specific therapeutic approaches beyond the current paradigm in breast cancer treatment.

Going further, the general principles delineated by MECHANO-CONTROL could also have high applicability in other areas of oncology, as well as regenerative medicine and biomaterials. This has the potential to bring new treatments and relief from suffering for many.

Taking it scale by scale

Working at the nanometric, molecular level, MECHANO-CONTROL researchers are developing cellular microenvironments, enabled by substances that mimic naturally occurring cell components.

On the cell-to-organ scale, the team is combining controlled microenvironments and interfering strategies with the development of techniques to measure and control mechanical forces and adhesion in cells and tissues, and to evaluate their biological response.

At the organism scale, researchers are establishing how cellular mechanics can be controlled.

Project details

  • Project acronym: MECHANO-CONTROL
  • Participants: Spain (Coordinator), Germany, UK, Netherlands
  • Project N°: 731957
  • Total costs: € 7 134 928
  • EU contribution: € 7 134 928
  • Duration: January 2017 to December 2021

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Micro-Nano Technologies for Integrated Microscopy – 16 September 2019, Belgrade, Serbia

RSSNew Events – most recently added events appear first in this feed. There is also a feed for past events.

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Horizon Europe – Commission launches work on major research and innovation missions for cancer, climate, oceans and soil

At the occasion of the Informal Council for Research Ministers in Helsinki, Finland, Commissioner Moedas announced the appointment of five prominent experts to chair the mission boards, which will propose targets and timelines to design the specific missions.

Also today, Professor Mariana Mazzucato, Special Advisor for Mission Driven Science and Innovation to Commissioner Moedas, presented a new report: Governing Missions in the European Union’, which sets out what it takes to make missions a success.

Commissioner Moedas said:

I am excited to see the mobilisation of such high-profile people to help us solve our generation’s biggest challenges through research and innovation missions. The missions will be in good hands with the commitment, drive and leadership that these outstanding individuals will bring. The new report from Professor Mazzucato, who has already been such a decisive source of inspiration, will give us further insights into how we make the missions a success.

Professor Mariana Mazzucato said:

Mission-led thinking is a bold strategic approach, and it is encouraging that the European Commission has adopted this strategy in its five major research missions. But we should beware that without new capabilities and financing structures, missions will not reach their full potential. We need to reimagine government in the 21st century for missions to be successful. Public trust in the Government is low across Europe. It is up to public institutions to reform and put societal challenges at the heart of decision-making. Citizen engagement in this process is key.

Mission Board Chairs*

The Commission is establishing five ‘mission boards’. Their first deliverable will be to propose concrete targets and timelines for each mission by the end of 2019. They will be chaired by the following outstanding individuals who will contribute with their experience, authority and credibility: 

  1. Ms Connie Hedegaard, former European Commissioner for Climate Action, for the mission on ‘Adaptation to Climate Change including Societal Transformation’
  2. Professor Harald zur Hausen, Nobel Prize Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, for the mission on ‘Cancer’
  3. Mr Pascal Lamy, former Trade Commissioner and Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, for the mission on ‘Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters’
  4. Professor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, former Mayor of Warsaw, for the mission on ‘Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities’
  5. Mr Cees Veerman, former Dutch Agriculture Minister, for the mission on ‘Soil Health and Food’.   

*official membership is subject to finalisation of internal procedures.

Governing missions in the European Union

In her new report, Professor Mariana Mazzucato presents recommendations on three essential elements to deliver impactful missions in the European Union: How to engage citizens in missions; how to ensure that public organisations are optimally equipped to implement missions; and how to optimise finance and funding for missions.

Background

As part of the EU’s next long-term budget for 2021-2027, the Commission proposed on 7 June 2018 the next EU research and innovation programme Horizon Europe with a proposed budged of €100 billion. In April 2019, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament reached a political agreement on the programme on the basis of which the Commission has started preparing Horizon Europe’s implementation.

Missions are one of the main novelties of Horizon Europe. By addressing important societal challenges, such as cancer and climate change, through ambitious but realistic research and innovation activities, they will make clear to citizens how the EU can make a real difference in their lives and in society as a whole. They boost the impact of EU-funded research and innovation by mobilising investment and EU wide efforts around measurable and time-bound goals around issues that affect citizens’ daily lives. 

The current five mission areas were identified during the negotiations of the Horizon Europe programme. To narrow down the five broad mission areas, the Commission is appointing a mission board for each area. By the end of 2019, the mission boards will identify the first possible specific missions, with a concrete target and timeline. The boards will discuss with citizens, stakeholders and experts from Member States at the first European Research and Innovation Days in Brussels from 24 to 26 September.

Each mission board will consist of 15 experts, including the chair. Following a selection process, which produced over 2100 applications, the five mission boards will be composed of creative and highly motivated experts from a wide range of backgrounds, including academics, innovators, civil society, industry, finance and end-users. The Commission expects to announce the full composition of the mission boards by the end of July 2019.

The European Commission, through Commissioner Moedas, invited Professor Mazzucato to draw up strategic recommendations on the implementation of missions to maximise the impact of Horizon Europe. The new report ‘Governing Missions in the European Union’ includes recommendations on how to involve civil society and engage citizens in the innovation chain; how new modes and processes in the public sector can unleash creativity, enhance synergies and foster innovation ecosystems; and how public financing can crowd-in and galvanize other forms of investment. 

Professor Mazzucato’s first report for Commissioner Moedas, called ‘Mission-Oriented Research and Innovation in the European Union’ set out the main characteristics of mission-oriented research and innovation:

  • Bold, inspirational, with wide societal relevance;
  • Targeted, measurable, and time-bound;
  • Ambitious, but realistic R&I actions;
  • Cross-disciplinary, cross-sectoral and cross-actor innovation;
  • Drive multiple, bottom-up solutions.

Professor Mariana Mazzucato currently holds the Chair in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London (UCL). She is founder and director of UCL’s new Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. Her research covers the relationship between financial markets, innovation and economic growth.

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Press Centre – Commission to invest €11 billion in new solutions for societal challenges and drive innovation-led sustainable growth

Horizon 2020, the EU’s €77 billion research and innovation funding programme for the period 2014-2020, supports scientific excellence in Europe and has contributed to high-profile scientific breakthroughs such as the discovery of exoplanets, first images of a black hole and development of advanced vaccines for diseases such as Ebola.

Today the Commission announced the budget plan for the year 2020 for Horizon 2020. Over the next year, the Commission will seek greater impact of its research funding by focusing on fewer, but crucial, topics such as climate change, clean energy, plastics, cybersecurity and the digital economy. It will also be geared towards shaping the future research and innovation landscape by preparing the way for Horizon Europe, the next framework programme (2021-2027). An important novelty under Horizon Europe will be the European Innovation Council – a one-stop-shop for innovation funding to turn science into new business and accelerate the scale-up of companies. The European Innovation Council is already running in its pilot phase and will in 2020 benefit from a budget of €1.2 billion.

Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said:

Horizon 2020 is generating new knowledge and technologies, and has a strong economic impact. For every 100 euro we invest through Horizon 2020, we expect to add 850 euro to our GDP by 2030, creating millions of jobs for Europeans. That is why we have proposed €100 billion for the next Horizon Europe programme, to boost the EU’s competitiveness, innovation capacities and scientific excellence.

Focusing on political priorities

This Work Programme will support the budget for 2018-2020 and the Commission’s political priorities, in the following areas:

  • A low-carbon, climate resilient future: €3.7 billion
  • Circular economy: €1 billion
  • Digitising and transforming European industry and services: €1.8 billion
  • Security Union: €1 billion

In 2020, €206 million is earmarked for projects to transform sectors that are traditionally energy intensive into competitive, low-carbon and circular industries and to significantly lower their environmental footprint. €132 million will support the development and production in Europe of the next generation of batteries, as part of the drive towards a low-carbon, climate-resilient future. Ten new topics on plastics with a total budget of €135 million contribute in different ways to the EU Plastics Strategy. Artificial intelligence, which is at the core of today’s most promising breakthroughs, has a budget of €396 million and €116 million is earmarked for developing new capabilities for fighting and preventing cybercrime.

Boosting ‘blue sky’ research

At the same time, Horizon 2020 will continue to fund “curiosity-driven science” (often referred to as “blue sky science” or “frontier research”). The annual Work Programme of the European Research Council for 2020, adopted today, will enable support for excellent researchers with over €2.2 billion. Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, which fund fellowships for researchers at all stages of their careers, receive a boost with over €1 billion in total.

Enhancing international cooperation

This last Work Programme also strengthens international cooperation in research and innovation. It will invest over €550 million in 2020 in cooperation flagships in areas of mutual benefit. Examples include working with Africa on global health, food and nutrition security, with the US Canada and Japan on clean energy, and with China on food production, biotech, energy, natural resources and urbanisation.

Bridging to Horizon Europe

Since the beginning of its mandate, the Juncker Commission has been working hard to give Europe’s many innovative entrepreneurs every opportunity to thrive. The Commission launched the first phase of the European Innovation Council, to turn Europe’s scientific discoveries into businesses that can scale up faster. The EIC Accelerator pilot announced in March will test a grant and equity blended financing model, paving the way for a fully-fledged European Innovation Council in the next EU research and innovation framework programme, Horizon Europe.

In anticipation of the expected structure and content of Horizon Europe, €209 million brings together actions on food and natural resources. Co-creating methods and approaches are being tested through cross-cutting calls on interdisciplinary challenges such as Competitive, Low Carbon and Circular Industries. To trial ways of simplifying participants’ experience, the use of Lump-sum pilots will be further expanded throughout the work programme.  In addition, policy areas with increased prominence in the Horizon Europe proposal are addressed, such as smart buildings and airports, and the microbiome.

Background

Horizon 2020 is the EU’s biggest ever research and innovation framework programme with a budget of €77 billion over seven years (2014-2020). While most research and innovation activities are still underway or yet to start, the programme is delivering.

EU funded research has contributed to major discoveries like exoplanets, the Higgs boson and gravitational waves, first images of a black hole and at least 17 Nobel Prize winners received EU research funding prior or after their award (see factsheet on R&I success stories).

As of June 2019, Horizon 2020 has provided companies, in particular SMEs, with access to risk finance worth €19 264 million under the EU finance for innovators scheme (InnovFin). It has funded more than 24 500 grants in total to the tune of €42.8 billion, of which almost €7.1 billion went to SMEs. Over 5 000 ERC Principal Investigators in host organisations and over 45 000 fellows under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions will receive almost €8.8 billion and €4.3 billion respectively.

In June 2018, for the budget period 2021-2027 the Commission proposed Horizon Europe, the next EU research and innovation programme with a budget of €100 billion. In March 2019 the European Parliament and the Council of the EU have reached a provisional agreement on Horizon Europe.

More information

Factsheet: Focus areas

Factsheet: European Innovation Council

Factsheet: lump sum pilot

Country participation in H2020

Horizon 2020 website

Funding & Tenders Portal

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Research Headlines – Bioactive scaffold regenerates arteries from within

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EU-funded biotechnology researchers have developed a novel treatment for atherosclerosis, the narrowing and hardening of arteries that is the leading underlying cause of death and disability in Europe.

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© freshidea #184516362, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com

Atherosclerosis is a common, potentially serious condition caused by a build-up of fatty material in the lining of the artery walls. It can lead to coronary artery disease, stroke or kidney problems, and existing treatments tend to be only short-term fixes.

In response to this public health challenge, EU-funded project THE GRAIL developed a new therapeutic strategy using a soft, compliant and intelligent ‘scaffold’ made of bioactive material to trigger the regeneration of diseased areas of blood vessels. This novel medical device could soon undergo the first clinical trials in humans.

The scaffold is made of biomimetic protein – which mimics existing proteins in the body – and is known as a synthesised intimal layer. The material is bio-resorbable, meaning it dissolves into the body once healthy arterial tissue has been restored. It should provide a more effective and longer-lasting solution than the therapeutic options currently available to atherosclerosis patients.

‘As the primary cause of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis has been the focus of considerable research leading to rather effective treatments. But these treatments have a major shortcoming: they are mostly short-term solutions, failing to restore vessel integrity in the long term,’ says project coordinator Davide De Lucrezia of Explora Biotech in Italy.

Effective, long-term treatment

Currently, patients diagnosed with atherosclerosis are typically treated with one of two methods: bypass surgery, in which blood flow is redirected to divert it around the diseased artery; or angioplasty, in which a balloon catheter is inserted and inflated to enlarge the artery walls.

However, many patients have to return to hospital within a few years as scarring from the surgery, recurring plaque build-up and other complications cause the treated blood vessels to start narrowing again.

The treatment developed by THE GRAIL researchers overcomes these issues. Instead of bypassing or artificially inflating diseased arteries, the team’s solution involved using the thin tube of a catheter, a minimally invasive technique, to insert the synthesised intimal layer into the diseased blood vessel.

Made of biopolymers based on elastine-like proteins, the soft scaffold includes bioactive molecules that are capable of recruiting the patient’s own endothelial cells. These cells, which line the interior surface of blood vessels, support regeneration from within the diseased and stiffened area of the artery.

A dedicated spin-off

‘We demonstrated the scaffold’s full biocompatibility in vitro and safety in vivo, and preliminary results on efficacy are extremely encouraging,’ De Lucrezia says. ‘Thanks to five years of EU support, we were able to progress THE GRAIL project from a simple sketch on a paper to a working prototype, paving the way for the commercial exploitation of the results.’

Three SME partners in THE GRAIL have set up a dedicated spin-off company that owns the intellectual property generated in the project and will engage with larger companies capable of supporting sales. The consortium has also sought to exploit by-products of the research, for instance, testing a new technique for peripheral vascular bypass surgery.

Meanwhile, expertise gained in the project has allowed Explora to offer advanced in-vivo models for safety and efficacy testing of advanced medical devices, making the company one of the leading SMEs in Europe in the field of advanced therapy medicinal product testing.

The project partners are negotiating investment from venture capital firms to develop the technology, potentially leading to the first clinical trials in human patients. If successful, THE GRAIL’s synthesised intimal layer could be used in surgery within a few years, addressing a critical need for effective, long-term treatment for atherosclerosis patients.

Project details

  • Project acronym: THE GRAIL
  • Participants: Italy (Coordinator), Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, the Netherlands
  • Project N°: 278557
  • Total costs: € 7 804 024
  • EU contribution: € 5 998 438
  • Duration: January 2012 to December 2016

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Horizon Europe – Have your say on future objectives for EU-funded research and innovation

The Commission is preparing the implementation of Horizon Europe, the next and most ambitious EU research and innovation programme (2021-2027) with a proposed budget of €100 billion, in an intensive co-design process. The process will help shape European research and innovation investments in the coming years. As part of the process, the Commission has launched an online consultation

Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said:

Our common future will to a large degree depend on how successfully we work together to create valuable research and innovation. I am pleased to see that we are practicing what we preach as we now kick off the consultation on Horizon Europe with a period of unprecedented co-design including all interested parties

The consultation will collect input from across Europe and beyond. The inputs received will inform the work to prepare a ‘Strategic Plan’ for Horizon Europe, which will then guide the work programmes and calls for proposals for Horizon Europe’s first four years (2021-2024). Overall, the consultation will help identify impacts, spark debate and new ideas. A key event in this co-design process will be the European Research and Innovation Days in Brussels from 24 to 26 September 2019.

The co-design process ensures that Horizon Europe is directed towards what matters most, improves our daily lives and helps turn big societal challenges such as climate change into innovation opportunities and solutions for a sustainable future.

The Commission invites anyone with an interest in future EU research and innovation priorities, anywhere in the world, to participate in the consultation, which will close on 8 September 2019.

Background

The European Parliament and Council reached a political agreement on Horizon Europe in April 2019, on the basis of which the Commission has started to prepare the programme’s implementation, including through the strategic planning process. This process, focused in particular on Horizon Europe’s second pillar: ‘Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness’, will develop the first ‘Horizon Europe Strategic Plan (2021-2024)’. The plan will identify major policy drivers, strategic policy priorities, and targeted impacts to be achieved as well as identify missions and European Partnerships. The first ‘Horizon Europe Strategic Plan’ is planned to be endorsed by the next Commission towards the end of 2019, subject to agreement between the European Parliament and Council on the EU’s long-term budget (2021-2027) and its related horizontal provisions. 

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Horizon Europe

European Research and Innovation Days

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