Université de Strasbourg

Two Fellows awarded a France 2030 Chair of Excellence in Biology and Health

26 April 2024

Albert Weixlbaumer (2022 USIAS Fellow) and Roméo Ricci (2017 USIAS Fellow), both from the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology (IGBMC) of the University of Strasbourg, are among the 22 laureates of the first wave of France 2030's "Chairs of Excellence in Biology and Health" programme, which are awarded for a period of five years, with funding of up to €2 million per chair.

For the scientific project for the Chair or Excellence of Albert Weixlbaumer, entitled “CoTransSplice - Structural and biochemical studies on the coupling of mRNA transcription and splicing”, his lab will study the coupling of mRNA transcription and splicing. Humans can produce a vast and diverse set of proteins with a surprisingly small number of protein-coding genes. 

Albert Weixlbaumer in the lab

This remarkable ability is attributed to a process known as alternative pre-mRNA splicing, and critically depends on the cooperation between a transcribing RNA polymerase II and the splicing machinery. However, the mechanisms of this cooperation and their mutual influence remain unclear. Using biochemistry and cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), Dr. Weixlbaumer, his lab, and his collaboration partners will study co-transcriptional splicing and provide a framework for devising new strategies aimed at, for example, elucidating the cause of erroneous splicing that lead to serious diseases. In his 2022 USIAS project, his lab was able to develop the biochemical tools, protocols and preliminary data that served as an important stepping stone towards the current project.

Inflammasome Ricci lab 2022The Chair of Excellence project of Roméo Ricci and his lab, called “ENDOFLAMMASOME - NLRP3 activation at endosomes: From basic mechanisms to disease”, will focus on the link between environmental stress and inflammation, specifically the role of the protein NLRP3. Inflammation, the immune system's response to harmful stimuli such as pathogens, damaged cells and toxic compounds, is in principle a beneficial process, but can have harmful consequences if it persists due to chronic cellular stress over long periods. Professor Ricci and his collaborators have discovered a new mechanism for detecting cellular stress, opening up new avenues of research in cell biology and innate immunity. The NLRP3 protein detects various cellular stresses that disrupt a cellular sub-compartment called the endosome, and this alteration recruits NLRP3 to these endosomes, triggering inflammation.

A better understanding of the complex mechanisms involved can pave the way for innovative strategies to target chronic inflammation in complex human diseases such as type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Roméo Ricci’s 2017 USIAS project, exploring the structural mechanism of NLRP3 inflammasome assembly, provided a valuable basis for the current Chair of Excellence project. 

The Chair of Excellence in Biology and Health initiative was created to retain in, and attract to, France the best researchers in the field. Launched in May 2023, it is operated on behalf of the French government by the French National Research Agency (ANR) and aims to fund between 40 and 50 Chairs of Excellence for a total budget of €80 million. The programme is part of the Health Innovation Plan 2030 (which, in turn, is part of the €34 billion France 2030 national investment plan), with the ambition to (re-)establish France as a leading country in the area of health.

Images: Albert Weixlbaumer in his laboratory (Fondation Bettencourt Schueller 2021); Inflammasome (Ricci lab, IGBMC, Strasbourg, 2022)

France 2030