Interview with Bernardo Franklin, Brazilian ERC Starting Grant awardee

You have recently been awarded an ERC Starting Grant. Could you tell us about the research you are conducting with this grant? How can the general public benefit from it?

I study immunology, which is how our bodies fight infections and insults. It’s a very exciting area of basic research as it is a very dynamic field. However, even within a field that has been growing so fast, some ideas and concepts are surprisingly stalling and did not evolve as fast. One of them is the concept that platelets (also known as thrombocytes), well-known for their role in blood coagulation, do not play primary immune roles as compared to other classical immune cells. With my research, I plan to change this view, and show that platelets do not only have the capacity of several functions previously attributed exclusively to immune cells, but are also indispensable for the function of immune cells. Targeting platelets is relatively easy, and drugs that we take on a daily basis, such as aspirin, can affect platelets transiently. And new evidence suggests associations between the regular use of aspirin and better outcomes for certain types of cancers. If my research succeeds, it might open doors to new immunotherapies, diseases in which we target cells of the immune system to prevent them from causing damage.

How did you find out about the ERC selection process? Can you share any tips with our readers on how to apply for an ERC grant successfully?

Everybody knows the ERC grants. If you’re a scientist working anywhere in Europe, you would already have heard about them. Honestly, I only applied because it was my last chance to compete in the Starting Grant scheme. I was approaching the 7 years after PhD cut off, and after that, I would only have been able to apply for a Consolidator Grant, where I would not stand a chance. I had the idea, and I was passionate about it, but I did not know if others would agree that it was a great and innovative idea. I’m not in the position to give advice, as what worked for me, might not apply to everybody. But, I can tell what I did: I discussed my ideas with colleagues and asked them to ask tough questions, and most of all, I was passionate about it. And I still am. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up, and the last when I go to bed. This way I can always think about something new and improve it. And even after being granted the ERC funding, there is still room for improvements.

How has mobility influenced the direction of your career? In your opinion, what could be done to further enhance the mobility of international researchers between Europe and Brazil?

The ability to move around is crucial for any career in science. It is not only a invaluable addition to our personal growth, as we are exposed to other languages and cultures, but also immensely broadens our capacity to think critically. When you go abroad you find out that the concepts you know or believe in may not necessary apply to others, or these concepts can be perceived in an entirely different way in other contexts. And as science is a dynamic field, we need to be dynamic as well. I changed a lot, and learned about different fields: From basic immunology of Infectious diseases, such as Schistosomiasis, Chagas, and Malaria to diseases of Western societies, like Atherosclerosis, Alzheimers diabetes and respiratory diseases. All of this, whilst interacting and learning from other very talented and renown scientists that I would never have met, had I stayed in Brazil, my home country. Learning from such broad fields was indispensable to come up with innovative ideas. Stronger partnerships between Universities, Industry and funding agencies between different countries, such as the CONFAP and ERC partnership announced in October 2016, would definitely facilitate the exchange of scientists and students between these countries and help science to advance further.

Graduated in Biology, Bernardo Franklin has a Master and PhD in Cellular and Mollecular Biology by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation with part of his PhD done at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr Franklin has experience in Innate Immunity, Immunology of Infectious Diseases and of Chronic Inflammatory Disesases. Winner of several prestigious national and international awards, including the one for Best PhD thesis in Brazil, Dr. Franklin is currently a Group Leader at the Institute of Innate Immunity at the Universtity of Bonn, in Germany.



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