Dr Hayley Sharpe receives an ERC Consolidator Grant

Dr Hayley Sharpe receives an ERC Consolidator Grant

Dr Hayley Sharpe receives an ERC Consolidator Grant

Key points: 

  • Dr Hayley Sharpe, a tenured group leader in the Institute’s Signalling research programme, has been selected to receive an ERC Consolidator Grant. 
  • Consolidator Grants recognise research excellence and support researchers across all research disciplines to pursue their most promising scientific ideas. 
  • The five-year project will focus on uncovering how T cell receptor binding initiates the signalling events that lead to various T cell behaviours. Understanding this mechanism is important for T cell-based therapies in cancer as well as extending our understanding of cell-cell communication more widely.   

Dr Hayley Sharpe has been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant, as announced by the European Research Council (ERC) today. ERC Consolidator Grants are evaluated on the basis of excellence by international peer reviewers, and grants recognise both the quality of the proposal and the track record of the lead researcher. In the Life Sciences domain, 89 proposals were selected from 612 submitted proposals.

Dr Hayley Sharpe commented: “I’m delighted to receive an ERC Consolidator Grant and want to acknowledge the support I received from my colleagues when preparing the research proposal. Insights into T cell signalling are key to optimising T cell-based therapies in cancer. Despite its importance, how antigen-TCR binding initiates signalling inside the cell is an unresolved question. I believe that this research project will not only deliver fundamental insights into T cell signalling, but also has transformative potential for broader areas of cell-to-cell communication.”

The funded project will explore the mystery of how antigen binding to receptors on the surface of T cells triggers the signalling cascades that result in the T cell taking action. This can be to summon other immune cells, proliferate or kill an infected cell. 

The research approach aims to uncover this unknown mechanism by combining three areas of expertise of the Sharpe lab and their collaborators; understanding the roles of protein phosphatases, the effects of mechanical force on the T cell receptor and characterisation of redox signalling in relation to T cell activation.

The research will utilise several of the Institute’s cutting-edge facilities: flow cytometry, imaging, mass spectrometry, biological chemistry and the Institute’s animal facility. Collectively, the combined expertise from the Sharpe lab and the associated facilities will enable high-resolution imaging of the signalling dynamics and the generation of hydrogen peroxide within T cells, identify protein ‘neighbours’ in the proximity of T cell receptors and perturb the signalling mechanisms involved in initiating T cell functions.

Dr Simon Cook, Institute Director and Head of the Institute’s Signalling research programme, said: “Congratulations to Hayley! This is a remarkable achievement. As a fundamental research institute, we are passionate about discovery research and extending the boundaries of our biological understanding. This project will deliver vital insight on a longstanding and unresolved question: how T cell receptors activate downstream signalling. This is also a timely reminder of the importance to UK science of access to Horizon Europe funding.”

EC and ERC perspectives on the 2023 ERC Consolidator Grants 

Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “I extend my heartfelt congratulations to all the brilliant researchers who have been selected for ERC Consolidator Grants. I'm especially thrilled to note the significant increase in the representation of women among the winners for the third consecutive year in this prestigious grant competition. This positive trend not only reflects the outstanding contributions of women researchers but also highlights the strides we are making towards a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.”

President of the European Research Council Prof. Maria Leptin commented on the high quality of the research submitted to the funding scheme, highlighting the opportunities missed due to budget constraints: “The new Consolidator Grant winners represent some of the best of European research. It is disappointing that we cannot support every deserving project simply due to budget constraints; around 100 proposals identified as excellent in our rigorous evaluation will be left unfunded. Can Europe afford to let such talent go unrealised? We need to collectively advocate for increased investment in research and innovation. Our shared goal must be to ensure that no brilliant idea goes unfunded in Europe, and no promising career is left unfulfilled.”

The UK is well represented in the split of 2023 ERC Consolidator Grants by country, with only Germany hosting a higher number of grantees. The funding announcement and 2023 award statistics are available from the ERC website

Career snapshot – Dr Hayley Sharpe 

Dr Hayley Sharpe gained her PhD with Dr Sean Munro FRS at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge investigating how transmembrane proteins negotiate the membranes of the secretory pathway. She then moved on to study clinical resistance mechanisms to a Hedgehog pathway inhibitor in skin cancer as a postdoctoral researcher at Genentech, USA, from 2011. In 2016 she started her lab at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research (CIMR) after obtaining a Wellcome/Royal Society Sir Henry Dale fellowship to focus on cell signalling by receptor tyrosine phosphatases. She joined the Institute in 2019, became an EMBO Young Investigator in 2020 and received Lister Research Prize fellowship in the same year. Hayley was awarded tenure and became a permanent group leader in 2023. 


Notes to Editors

Press contact

Dr Louisa Wood, Head of Communications, louisa.wood@babraham.ac.uk

Image description

A false-coloured image of phagocytic primary macrophages expressing a fluorescent reporter to detect cellular hydrogen peroxide production (shown by yellow/orange colouring). Image credit: Oisharja Rahman.

Research funding

The funded project (acronym MechanoROS-T) is titled: ‘Exploring mechanoregulated hydrogen peroxide as a mechanism of T cell activation’ and is categorised in the ‘Cellular, Developmental and Regenerative Biology’ theme of applications to the Life Sciences domain in the breakdown of research categories used by the European Research Council for ERC Consolidator Grants. 

Animal research statement

As a publicly funded research institute, the Babraham Institute is committed to engagement and transparency in all aspects of its research. The research described here will use mice when it isn’t possible to use alternative methods to achieve the project’s objectives. The use of mice is necessary in order to study the complex interplay of cell-cell interactions as well as physiological responses to immunological challenges. The research will use genetically modified mice, with all modifications causing only mild or no detectable phenotypes. The genetic modifications will allow the researchers to track the production of hydrogen peroxide in cells, identify protein interactors, or affect cell signalling through the T cell receptor. The research will also involve challenging the immune system of the mice, which will be done by intranasally introducing the influenza A virus. The infection causes mild discomfort in the mice and any mice showing discomfort above this level (rated by well-established clinical assessment criteria) will be humanely killed. The animal research involved in this project has been reviewed by the Babraham Institute’s Animal Welfare and Ethical Review committee (AWERB) and approved by the Home Office.   

Please follow the link for further details of our animal research and our animal welfare practices.

About the Babraham Institute

The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through Institute Strategic Programme Grants and an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities. 

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