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Synergies of Life and Material Sciences to Create a New Future

Final Report Summary - SYLICA (Synergies of Life and Material Sciences to Create a New Future)

Executive Summary:
The project SYLICA – Synergies of Life and Material Sciences to Create a New Future concentrated on unlocking and developing research potential of CEITEC Central European Institute of Technology located in Brno, Czech Republic. The SYLICA project coordinator, Masaryk University is the main beneficiary of CEITEC, and the second largest Czech university. CEITEC concentrates the best teams in life sciences and advanced materials research, including interdisciplinary interactions with a promising scientific potential. It is both interdisciplinary and international scope, which created the major added value of SYLICA.

SYLICA created important synergies with the EU Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF); CEITEC received a large investment worth 208 mil EUR from the main instrument of the EU Cohesion Policy – ERDF Structural Fund into the state-of-the-art infrastructure with national and international significance. By combining ERDF and FP7, the EU added value was created, and a strict complementary approach was followed. SYLICA principally concentrated on the missing expertise for the new core facilities of CEITEC. Through a series of workshops, seminars, postdoctoral and expert inter-ships and visits, and reintegration of experienced nationals, the project strengthened the CEITEC´s research potential on one hand in methodologies and techniques needed for the infrastructure, and on the other hand in the interdisciplinary research fields including studies of novel biomaterials and composites with enhanced biological and mechanical properties.

SYLICA fostered strategic partnerships with prestigious EU research institutions and attracted external users of the infrastructure and research results including industry. It contributed to the vision of CEITEC as a flourishing research centre well-networked and integrated in the ERA, training a new generation of researchers, and delivering research results of top level European quality and significance.

Project Context and Objectives:
The concept of capacity building of SYLICA was to integrate CEITEC fully in the European Research Area by strengthening international strategic partnership and contribute to new networks created at EU level. With the SYLICA project, the scientific visibility of CEITEC was increased and excellent scientists from abroad were attracted. The centre and its core facilities were promoted in order to attract users including international industry. The infrastructure was used as a tool for creating a long-term partnership with both research centres and companies develop in-house expertise for operation and management of core facilities and acquire scientific methods and techniques connected with new instrumentation, which is rather unique in the Central and Eastern Europe.

SYLICA aimed to contribute to the development of research topics of a strong interdisciplinary character, which requires a unique combination across well-established research fields and research teams. This already existing quality connecting research in life sciences and material sciences in one centre, which represents a rather rare approach worldwide, develops into an important scientific direction in CEITEC. The unique interdisciplinary links between “living and non-living” created a key added value for CEITEC at the European level.
The scientific goals of SYLICA have been designed as the following four interdisciplinary Research Topics:

1. Cell-surface interactions
The topic covered seven sub-topics that make use of approaches and instrumentation accustomed in micro- and nanotechnologies which offer new possibilities in a study of living cells, both in vitro and in vivo. Even if the cell is a complex system, characterization of its mechanical properties, attachment to surfaces, preferential growth and other events in vitro could provide an important and interesting view into the cell behaviour in vivo.

2. Biosensing
Development of biosensors and advanced bioassays was motivated by the demand for highly selective, sensitive, low-cost and easy-to-operate analytical tools for molecular biology, medical diagnostics, forensic medicine, environmental monitoring etc. Research in biosensing covered nine sub-topics that involved scientists across the life and material scientific groups of CEITEC.

3. Materials for tissue engineering
Development of advanced, hierarchical biomaterials based on combination of synthetic polymers and function specific chemically modified biopolymers or inorganic nanoparticles was motivated by the fast advance of tissue engineering envisioned for curing defects in tissues generated from the mesenchym, i.e. cartilage and bone.
An important part of this research involved investigating interactions between synthetic and natural biomaterials and tissue cells during growth and differentiation, principles controlling immobilization and release of various biologically active proteins and drugs and the stability of these materials in the human body environment.

4. Methods for biomolecular, biointeraction and biomaterial studies
The methods coved seven sub-topics important for biomolecular and biointeraction studies which represent core tools of structural biology. At the same time, most of the relevant research techniques focused on imaging, structural aspects and chemical composition is also widely used for characterization of surfaces in material sciences including biomaterials.
In this way, a strong methodological link between structural biology and material science were used and both areas profited from technical progress achieved in the individual fields. To realise this, the interdisciplinary gap existing historically between life and material sciences was minimised within this topic.

The SYLICA Work Plan covered all the activities available in the Research Potential programme, except for upgrading, development or acquisition of research equipment. The reason was the complementary funding from the ERDF into the CEITEC research infrastructure and equipment.
With this only exception the whole portfolio of measures was being employed:
• Return of experienced Czech scientists and experienced incoming post-docs;
• Different forms of exchange of know-how with foreign partners such as secondments of our researchers abroad, incoming experts and post-docs;
• Lectures, training courses, workshops focused on acquiring unique expertise;
• CEITEC scientific conferences with distinguished international speakers;
• Workshops with stakeholders including industry;
• Dissemination and promotional activities;
• Project management.
The Action Plan had a strong international character. The key aspect was involvement of renowned scientists and experts from abroad who acted as lecturers, speakers and tutors and took part in the SYLICA scientific mobility programme.

Project Results:
During the SYLICA implementation in total 33 publications in peer-revied scientific journals were produced which cover the interdisciplinary topics of the SYLICA research focus.

The following main activities were performed during the whole project duration in line with the project work plan:

Setting the scene for strategic partnerships – scientific mobility and co-operation
- Kick-off meeting in Brno, on October 18th, 2011
- 18 visits involving 35 participants covering leading researchers and managers
- Plan of bi-directional activities created for the whole project timeframe
– Establishment of personal contacts and links with partner institutions involved in SYLICA scientific mobility activities – internationalization of CEITEC partnerships,
– 16 joint projects submitted with partners; 9 person-months spent

Scientific mobility – hosting experts from abroad, secondments of young post-docs
- 134 visits of international experts were hosted at CEITEC, altogether 51 pers-month
- 46 secondments (trainee-ships) of young researchers to 33 partner institutions, altogether 79 pers-months
– Enhanced research capacity through transfer of scientific knowledge from abroad
– Opportunities for further collaboration on concrete scientific topics identified

Brain gain - reintegrating experienced Czech scientists and employing post-docs from abroad
- 5 reintegrations of experienced Czech scientists from abroad; 112 pers-months
- 27 experienced post-docs employed coming from abroad to CEITEC; 512 p-months
– Enhanced research capacity through internationalization of human resources and gaining experienced postdoctoral fellows from abroad

Organizing international events – scientific conferences, workshops, lectures
- 5 international scientific conferences organized with 1478 speakers and 593 participants
– 45th Heyrovský discussion on August 13-17, 2012
– SYLICA Symposium on September 7, 2012
– Cell Interaction with surfaces on October 22-23, 2012
– CECE 2012 on November 1-2, 2012
– 15th Central and Eastern European NMR Symposium in September 2013
- 9 workshops with 110 speakers and 552 participants
- 33 lectures with 2,600 participants given by renowned scientists from abroad
- 3 training courses with international tutors for 155 participants
– Increased scientific visibility of CEITEC, exchange of scientific knowledge

Dissemination – Open Days for public, website and visibility in media
- 6 Open Days organized with 2,400 participants including students and pupils
- 2 meetings of Steering Committee for Research Strategy in Brno in 2013 and 2015
- SYLICA Final event and poster session held on 17 March 2015
- Dissemination on national and European levels
- Scientific publications issued based on research performed within SYLICA
- Dedicated project website
– Great number of visitors, especially young students and general public, visited CEITEC premises and took part in lectures, tours and demonstrations during Open Days
– Scientific activities and outcomes of SYLICA presented to the Steering Committee for Research Strategy involving regional and national authorities and the European Commission

Potential Impact:
Impact of project outcomes and their use:

The main strategic impact is seen especially in the better integration of CEITEC in the ERA thanks to development and strengthening partnership networks with 12 outstanding strategic partner institutions. These institutions include European universities and research institutes which perform research in the fields of life science and material science.

1. CERM, University of Florence, Italy
2. CERMAv-CNRS, Grenoble, France
3. ELETTRA Sincrotrone Trieste
4. EMBL Heidelberg, Germany
5. ENMat (European Network of Materials Research Centres), Gent, Belgium
6. ESFR Grenoble, European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, France
7. IMEC Belgium, Leuven, Belgium
8. Imperial College London, UK
9. Institut Néel, CNRS-UJF, Grenoble, France
10. Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt a.M. Germany
11. Max-Planck-Institut für biophysikalische Chemie, Göttingen, Germany
12. Vienna University of Technology, Austria

The strong EU scope had a great impact on European scientific collaboration and training at CEITEC Masaryk University. SYLICA proved to be an effective tool of upgrading the RTD capacity and capability of CEITEC, especially human potential, both through brain gain and the exchange of international knowledge, which partly concerned also the new knowledge for core facilities and equipment operation. For CEITEC the great impact includes especially new interdisciplinary collaborations created thanks to SYLICA scientific topics. Regionally the project successfully maximized benefits of the research infrastructure for building lasting scientific relationships. The results and experience of the project were shared and disseminated within the South Moravian Region through a number of events - conferences, workshops, seminars, lectures, and through media also nationally and internationally - press releases, articles in journals and newspapers, in popular scientific press, interviews, promotional video etc. A number of scientific publication were produced in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Both representatives of the South Moravian regional agencies and of national authorities active in research policy and ESIF implmentation have been involved in the SYLICA Steering Committee for Research Strategy. At EU level the added value was creation of desirable synergies between the 7th Framework Programme (SYLICA) and the ESIF (CEITEC). The relatively modest investment from the Research Potential programme had a significant impact on the ways and effectiveness with which the large investment from EU Structural and Investment Funds was utilized as well as on the investment long-term sustainability.

List of Websites:
Coordinator contact details and project website
Prof. Jaroslav Koca
Masarykova univerzita
Kamenice 753/5
625 00 Brno
Czech Republic

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