ERC Advanced Grant awarded to Albert Heck

Grant enables innovative research into personalized antibody responses

Distinguished Faculty of Science Professor Albert Heck has been awarded a prestigious ERC Advanced Grant. The 2.5 million Euro grant enables Heck’s team to develop cutting-edge techniques to gain a fundamentally deeper understanding of our immune system. His team focuses on developing mass spectrometry and proteomics techniques to delve into the molecular intricacies of human antibodies.

Albert Heck
Prof. Albert Heck

Antibodies are key proteins of our immune system, responsible for identifying and neutralizing foreign threats. Albert Heck’s research team aims to shed new light on the enormous diversity and structural characteristics of these key components of our immune response.

The full range

Using the ERC Advanced Grant, Heck’s team will advance further mass spectrometry-based tools. This will enable the monitoring of individual antibody repertoires, as present in our blood. Their aim is to investigate how antibody repertoires vary from person to person, and how they change upon specific disease states or therapeutic treatments. Heck aims to expand our knowledge beyond just one type of antibody to understand the full range present in our body.

Although this was long thought to be impossible, Heck's team developed unique technologies to tackle circulating antibodies

Tackling antibodies directly

Heck’s approach fundamentally differs from traditional methods to study the humoral immune system. Instead of studying genetic material (DNA/RNA), his group directly tackles the circulating antibodies themselves. Although this was long thought to be impossible, in recent years his team developed unique technologies to do this straight from a few droplets of blood. This enables more precise representations on how our individual immune system reacts.

New therapies

His research will have impact on the way we understand and treat illnesses related to our immune system. Everybody has a unique composition of antibodies, and therefore some of us could harbour ‘super antibodies’ that are superior in neutralising certain viruses, bacteria or even cancer. Finding these antibodies and producing them could provide new therapies against infections, cancer and auto-immune diseases.

This is an acknowledgment by our peers that the research line we initiated a few years back has impact


“Being awarded an ERC Advanced Grant opens up many possibilities for our team”, says Heck. “This is fantastic! But it’s not just the funding that matters. It’s also an acknowledgment by our peers that the research line we initiated a few years back has impact. Is has the potential to lead to many more fundamental discoveries and, ultimately, more effective therapies.”

Even bigger strides

Heck’s work is a prime example on how advances in fundamental research and technologies enable breakthroughs that ultimately benefit society. The ERC grant enables Heck to take even bigger strides in the years to come.