Researchers unlocking the future of personalised medicine backed by European Research Council

Professor Ines Thiele
Nov 23 2023 Posted: 11:05 GMT

European Research Council awards University of Galway academic €2m grant for pioneering project developing computational model for healthcare


A University of Galway academic whose research work focuses on developing computational models of human biology has been awarded a €2 million research grant from the European Research Council. 

Leading the transformative AVATAR project is Professor Ines Thiele, who leads the Molecular Systems Physiology Group at the University and is a Principal Investigator with APC Microbiome Ireland, the Science Foundation Ireland microbiome research centre headquartered in University College Cork and Teagasc Moorepark. 

AVATAR is a ground-breaking project to construct an advanced computer model that delves into the connections between genes, metabolism, microbiome and diet, and to unravel their impact on health. The model aims to predict personalised health interventions based on individual health data, offering tailored advice - similar to a virtual health coach. It will be a stepping-stone for computer-assisted diagnosis and treatment.

AVATAR’s powerful computer model of human metabolism will propel advancements in personalised medicine by predicting the optimal health interventions for individuals, based on their own health data. It will initially focus on inherited metabolic diseases and metabolic changes in individuals with cognitive issues.

For example, the computer model may predict if a person is at risk of health issues based on their genes, microbiome, life-style parameters, and metabolism, and provide recommendations on how to intervene effectively, such as by giving specific diet recommendations. 

Professor Ines Thiele has been awarded €2 million European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant to spearhead the project.  

Professor Thiele explained: “AVATAR represents a monumental leap towards personalised medicine. Our society is very diverse, including our bodies, biologies and lifestyles, yet healthcare still largely relies on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, assuming most people will respond the same way to the same treatment. In reality, and beyond genetics, our health is influenced by internal factors like metabolism, which are small molecules circulating in our bodies; external elements such as microbiome and lifestyle choices such as diet.

“AVATAR addresses the differences between individuals by unravelling the intricate relationships between genes, metabolism, microbiome, and diet. While advancements in DNA technology hold promise for personalised medicine, the multitude of genetic variations presents a daunting challenging in determining their specific relevance to health.

“The intricate interplay of these factors forms a complex web that requires a sophisticated, computer-based approach in order to untangle.”

This is the second ERC award for Professor Thiele, who was awarded a European Research Council Starting Grant in 2017, which enabled her pioneering work on computational modelling of the role of the microbiome on human health.

The pioneering Avatar project involves collaboration and multidisciplinary efforts in a team spanning Ireland, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands and the USA. 

Professor Paul Ross, Director of APC Microbiome Ireland commented: “Personalised nutrition and medicine will be a huge gamechanger once we achieve the research goals to make it possible. Pioneering projects such as AVATAR will bring individualized approaches to food and medicine closer to reality when it comes to people’s healthcare.  As such, broad spectrum solutions for healthcare will in the future need to be refined for the complexities of individual needs to realise faster and more effective results for everyone.”


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