Research at nano levels with potentially big impact globally

From left to right the winners:Melisa Benard Valle, Patricia Mora and Yudong Xue
From left to right the winners:Melisa Benard Valle, Patricia Mora and Yudong Xue
Patricia Mora, Yudong Xue, and Melisa Benard Valle receive the EuroTech Future Award 2024

Novel approaches in treating Parkinson’s disease and venomous snakebites, as well as nanocoatings with applications in fields as diverse as hydrogen production, wastewater treatment and the healthcare sector: For the second time, the six EuroTech Universities granted the EuroTech Future Award to three promising young researchers for their contributions to a more sustainable tomorrow. While coming from very different fields, the winners 2024 have one thing in common: they work at nano levels. The scientists were honoured today at a ceremony in Brussels.

28 early-career researchers competed for the EuroTech Future Award in 2024. At the end, Patricia Mora of Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Yudong Xue of EPFL, and Melisa Benard Valle of Technical University of Denmark made the top of the list. The award jury, composed of the Vice-Presidents for Research of the EuroTech member universities and the Head of the EuroTech Brussels Office, assessed the impact of the applicants’ work in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations; their excellence as researchers and their ability to communicate about their work in a way that allows non-experts, particularly policymakers and citizens, to understand their contribution to a more sustainable world.

Tatiana Panteli, Head of the EuroTech Brussels Office and jury member said: "We are proud to have such amazing talents in the EuroTech Universities Alliance. Their work not only pushes the boundaries of scientific discovery but also provides practical solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, from neurological diseases and renewable energy to environmental protection and healthcare. The care of our planet is in the very capable hands of the young researchers, who are passionate about advancing research for the benefits of people."

1st Prize: Patricia Mora, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology

Patricia Mora is a pharmacist by training and received her PhD from Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Currently, she is a postdoctoral fellow in Professor Avi Schroeder’s lab at the Technion. She works on neurological diseases:

"Neurological disorders represent the first cause of disability and second leading cause of death. Nanomedicine offers new therapeutic capabilities, targeted gene and protein delivery, unattainable by traditional therapy. Reaching the central nervous system (CNS) involves crossing the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB). During my latest project we developed a system able to cross the BBB and bring antibodies to the CNS to treat Parkinson’s disease, improving motor skills in diseased mice.

While the results obtained were exciting, the number of particles needed was considerably high. Therefore, my next research challenge is to increase the nanoparticles brain uptake. Inspired by the popular tale, "the pied piper of Hamelin", I suggest letting music open the nanomedicines’ way into the brain. Since brain stimulation may increase glucose demand, I aim to leverage the increased glucose consumption to direct nanoparticle delivery to the CNS."

2nd Prize: Yudong Xue, EPFL

Yudong Xue is a scientist at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, financially supported by a Marie Sklodowska-Curie scholarship. He received his Ph.D. degree in Chemical Technology from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Beijing. His research has very different fields of application:

"My research explores cutting-edge nanocoatings. One key achievement involves developing advanced coatings for electrolytic water splitting to produce clean and renewable hydrogen. These coatings, created using sophisticated atomic layer deposition techniques, outperform existing alternatives, offering a sustainable solution for large-scale hydrogen production. Another breakthrough is the design of nanocoatings for environmental catalysis, effectively treating high-salinity wastewater and organic pollutants.

This innovation showcases the potential for revolutionizing wastewater treatment, achieving nearly 100% pollutant degradation. In the healthcare sector, my research has extended the lifespan of medical oxygen concentrator adsorbents through the application of nanocoatings. This development is particularly significant for regions with limited access to healthcare resources, potentially improving the availability and affordability of oxygen therapy devices."

3rd Prize: Melisa Benard Valle, Technical University of Denmark

Melisa Benard Valle is a biologist with a profound interest in snake venom function as well as anti-venom evaluation and development. She did her PhD at the Institute of Biotechnology, National Autonomous University of Mexico. Currently, Melisa is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow at DTU’s Center for Antibody Technologies.

"My research focuses on developing a new generation of antivenoms, recombinant antivenoms, to overcome the drawbacks of current treatments. I am using a technology called phage display to discover a special type of antibodies, known as nanobodies, that can neutralize the effects of the most dangerous toxins in coral snake venoms.

Nanobodies are small, fast acting molecules that are stable at high temperatures, making them excellent as possible treatments in tropical developing countries. Thus far, I have neutralized the lethality of complete venoms using a mixture of only two nanobodies. The resulting antivenom has the potential to be more efficacious and broadly-neutralizing than the current treatment, while allowing animal-free production, reduced costs, and lower risk of adverse reactions."

To read the full abstracts and to learn more about the winners’ backgrounds, visit https://eurotech-universitie­s.eu/eurot­ech-future­-award-202­4/winners/ . More information on the EuroTech Future Award can be found at www.future-award.eu.