ERC Proof of Concept Grant for Arjen Jakobi

News - 07 February 2022 - Communication TNW

Arjen Jakobi (Department of Bionanoscience) receives the ERC Proof of Concept Grant for his groundbreaking research on cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM). "This grant will allow us to take our new CryoChip technique for high resolution images of protein molecules to the next level for the development of new drugs," says Jakobi.

Arjen Jakobi operating the Cryo-EM microscope used for high-resolution imaging of biomolecules

Having received an ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council in September 2019, Arjen Jakobi (BN) now receives the ERC Proof of Concept Grant to further develop the commercial and societal potential of his research on cryo-EM, which will in particular contribute to a better understanding of our immune system.

Breakthrough in ice-cold microscopy

Cryogenic electron microscopy, in which samples are cooled to extremely low temperatures, is an essential technique for determining the structure of biological macromolecules. Jakobi is developing new tools for electron microscopy, which makes it possible to reveal details of protein molecules in a complex environment.

Why is this important? "The current methods which are commonly used have not changed much in decades; they are often unsuitable for taking high-resolution images of macromolecules," Jakobi explains. “The main challenge here is that the degree of exposure to the air-water layer damages the molecules.” The new technique created by Jakobi and colleagues solves this problem by enclosing the protein molecules in a chip with nano-channels ('CryoChips'), which helps to visualise the molecules at near atomic resolution – without damaging the samples.

A schematic illustration of the CryoChip and 3D reconstruction of a protein complex

Link between protein structures and diseases

A recent result of the ongoing research is a publication in eLife, which describes a prototype of such a new nanofluidic device which can address the various challenges of sample preparation in a cryoEM. The new microscopy tools will also help Jakobi and other researchers to obtain molecular images of many fundamental cellular processes, which play a central role in infectious diseases, cancer and neurological disorders, among others.

Assistant Professor

Arjen Jakobi

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