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ERC Proof of Concept Grant for Prof. Dr. Simon Wiegert

The European Research Council (ERC) grants are among the most prestigious awards in the scientific community. For the second time, Simon Wiegert has been awarded one of the coveted grants: An ERC Starting Grant for the LIFE synapses project in 2016 has now been followed by an ERC Proof of Concept Grant for HyFiPhotometry.

The grant will be used to further develop a system developed in the LIFE synapses project for the study of brain function. The funding will be used to explore the full potential of this innovation and bring it to market as a commercial product. The Fused Fiber Photometry (FFP) system developed by Simon Wiegert and his postdocs Alexander Dieter and Andrey Formozov is flexible, versatile and cost-effective. And it has the potential to open up a range of new applications.

The principle of the FFP system is based on fiber photometry with a fused optical fiber and couples multicolor photometry with optogenetics. The HyFiPhotometry project aims to develop an affordable and versatile commercial system with extended spectral capabilities. The ERC is funding the project with €150,000 over a period of one and a half years.

The main goal of the LIFE synapses project was to investigate the structure-function relationships of individual synapses in the brain.

The researchers soon realized the limitations of commercial systems for measuring neuronal activity, which are inflexible due to a fixed arrangement of filters and dichroic mirrors, and very limited in terms of the spectrum of light captured. They therefore decided to develop a flexible photometry system that would allow the device to be easily and quickly reconfigured for different experimental needs.

Fiberoptic photometry is a simple method for measuring the activity of specific brain cell populations. It allows both optical manipulation and measurement of the activity of molecularly defined neuronal populations in freely moving animals. The method is based on an implanted optical fiber through which fluorescent, genetically encoded indicators of cellular activity, metabolites or signaling molecules can be monitored. However, fiber photometry is typically limited to one or two functional channels.

The researchers addressed the limitations of conventional fiber photometry systems by radically redesigning the concept of fiber photometry. The team developed a flexible and versatile fused fiber photometry system that can easily combine fiber photometric recordings with optogenetic manipulations in a single device. At its core is a multimode fused fiber optic coupler that provides both light delivery, i.e., the excitation light to the brain, and light collection, i.e., the fluorescence signals from the brain.

Because the FFP system can transmit light of any wavelength, fluorescent indicators with any spectral characteristics can be used. Combined with a multi-color light source and appropriate emission filters, the approach offers high flexibility in experimental design and facilitates the application of new molecular tools at minimal cost.

As part of the ERC Proof of Concept project, a low-cost and versatile commercial system based on the FFP system will be developed that allows the measurement of a broad spectrum of light with high sensitivity. The goal is to be able to resolve an entire spectral continuum of even highly overlapping fluorescent biosensors. The paradigm of discrete spectral channels of commercial systems will be overcome.

From FFP to HyFiPhotometry - Hyperspectral Fiber Photometry, in which signal transmission is not limited to a predefined functional channel, but the entire spectral information is available, offers groundbreaking innovation potential. It will greatly increase the number of possible applications in neuroscience and open up new research opportunities in other fields.

"The system could make optical research into brain function affordable for many laboratories, as it is simple, flexible and inexpensive, and extends the range of fiber photometry far beyond the possibilities of conventional standard setups," says Simon Wiegert.

About the ERC Proof of Concept (PoC) Grant

The PoC grants, worth €150,000, will help researchers to bridge the gap between their frontier research discoveries and practical exploitation of results, including the early stages of commercialization. The funding is part of the EU's Horizon Europe research and innovation program. Researchers use PoC funding to test the feasibility of scientific concepts and to explore the commercial potential of an ongoing or completed ERC project.

Press release at the Medical Faculty Mannheim (German language)
24.01.2024 ERC Proof of Concept Grant für Prof. Dr. Simon Wiegert

Former News release
29.03.2023 Fused Fiber Photometry (FFP) - a flexible, versatile and cost-effective system for recording neuronal activity