AwardNeurobiologist Prof. Dr Simon Wiegert Receives Funding from the European Research Council

13 March 2024

ERC Proof of Concept Grant for the ongoing development of a system for the optical measurement of brain functions

Neurobiologist Prof. Dr Simon Wiegert, a scientist at the Medical Faculty Mannheim of Heidelberg University, has been awarded an ERC Proof of Concept Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) – a grant intended to support scientists who already hold an ERC grant and want to continue developing a research result from theory into practice. Prof. Wiegert is working on a fibre photometry system that can be used for a variety of processes to optically measure brain functions. He will receive 150,000 euros in funding over a period of one and a half years to examine potential applications and develop his system for market entry.

Portrait Prof. Dr Simon Wiegert

The Proof of Concept funding for hyFiPhotometry emerged from the LIFE synapses project, which was funded by an ERC Starting Grant. The focus of that project was on examining the relationships between the structure and function of individual synapses in the brain. The research team led by Prof. Wiegert quickly recognised the limitations of commercial systems when it came to measuring neural activity. They lacked flexibility due to the fixed arrangement of their filters and mirrors and were only of limited use for the team’s research in terms of the spectrum of light recorded. This prompted them to develop a photometry system that allowed the device to be easily and quickly reconfigured to suit the needs of different experiments. 

This meant radically redesigning the concept of fibre photometry – a simple method for measuring the activity of specific brain cell populations. Prof. Wiegert and his two postdocs, Dr Alexander Dieter and Dr Andrey Formozov, developed a flexible system based on fused fibres instead of dichroic mirror systems that combines multicolour photometry with optogenetics. In the words of the researchers, this versatile and cost-effective device has the potential to open up a whole host of new applications. The Proof of Concept funding will be used to develop the device into a hyperspectral fibre photometry system with expanded spectral capabilities and prepare it for commercial use.

Simon Wiegert leads the Department of Neurophysiology at the Medical Faculty Mannheim of Heidelberg University and is a member of the Mannheim Center for Translational Neuroscience (MCTN), which offers a platform for basic researchers as well as translational and clinical neuroscientists. His research ranges from synaptic-cellular neurobiology to network and systems neurobiology. Prof. Wiegert joined Heidelberg University in 2022.

With its grants, the ERC supports outstanding scientists breaking new ground in their field of research. The aim of Proof of Concept funding is to examine the market potential of an innovative research finding and to further develop it in terms of its marketability and readiness of use.