Batty researchers land €12m grant to unlock secrets of healthy aging

University College Dublin researchers secure ERC Synergy grant to find out if bats hold the secret to human health and longevity.

A research team from University College Dublin (UCD), has been awarded a European Research Council Synergy grant of nearly €12 million to explore if bats hold the key to health and longevity. Entitled “BatProtect,” the research project will be headed by Professor Emma Teeling, who will lead a team of 22 researchers as they seek to advance understanding of bats’ extended healthspan and resistance to diseases.

While solutions to enhance human healthspan and resistance to disease have proven elusive, bats have naturally overcome both issues. Despite hosting various dangerous viruses, bats typically do not exhibit symptoms of viral infections due to their unique immune system adaptations. Moreover, bats exhibit exceptional longevity and minimal signs of age-related diseases.

The primary goal of the BatProtect project is to make strides in understanding the specific genetic and biochemical factors within bats responsible for their ability to live longer, healthier lives and resist diseases. It is hoped that uncovering these molecular mechanisms may offer new possibilities for therapeutics to enhance human health and disease outcomes.

“We have just been given the most extraordinary opportunity to finally harness the amazing adaptations of bats and provide new ways to slow down human ageing and disease resistance,” said Teeling, a pioneer in the field of studying bats as models for healthy aging and disease resistance. “This ERC Synergy grant has enabled us to unite the fields of bat biology, virology, immunology, genomics and gerontology, across Europe and Asia, in order to achieve our goals. We are thrilled and excited to work together and uncover how we can live longer, healthier lives by learning from bats.”

Notable experts on the project team include Professor Linfa Wang from Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, Professor Michael Hiller from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Germany, and Professor Björn Schumacher from the Institute for Genome Stability in Ageing and Disease at the CECAD Research Centre in Germany.

The ERC Synergy grants are designed to support ambitious researchers in combining their expertise and resources to address complex global challenges. The 2023 ERC Synergy grants awarded 37 research groups across Europe with a total value of €359 million, aimed at tackling intricate scientific questions.

Photograph: Olivier Farcy