Committed to scientific excellence, since the 1960s, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) has helped thousands of early-career scientists through its fellowship programme. Typically awarded for two-year periods, EMBO’s long-term fellowships support advanced research and training by funding postdoctoral scientists through spells in other European countries or, when justified, further afield.
Between 2001 and 2010, applications for EMBO fellowships more than doubled, creating a situation in which co-funding was needed to meet demand. Subsequently, the EMBO successfully applied for funding from the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, leading to the establishment of its long-term fellowship co-fund, LTFCOFUND2013.
The fund has enabled the EMBO to increase the number of its transnational fellowships and improve fellowship conditions, thereby furthering the development of European research.
In 2015, from a total of 1 549 applications, the LTFCOFUND2013 was used to provide fellowships for 252 young postdoctoral life scientists (or EMBO fellows) during a crucial phase in their careers. This figure is about 25 % higher than that for 2016, when no co-funded money was available for the EMBO.
‘Through LTFCOFUND2013, EMBO funded early postdoctoral researchers in most areas of life sciences with a focus on molecular biology,’ says David del Álamo, head of the EMBO’s fellowships programme in Germany. ‘However, the EMBO defines molecular biology in the broadest possible terms, encompassing research into the mechanisms of life at all levels, from single molecules to organisms and ecosystems.’
The EMBO funds applications in areas as diverse as molecular biology of disease and biomedicine, neuroscience, plant biology, ecology and evolution, genomic and computational biology, and structural biology and biophysics, he adds.
Funding under LTFCOFUND2013 is only used to cover fellows’ needs. As del Álamo says: ‘No money is spent on overheads, research-related costs or any other administrative or bureaucratic expenses. The EMBO aims to maximise the investment in researchers themselves, helping them develop their careers and therefore advancing science in Europe and beyond.’
In terms of career development, EMBO fellows have the chance to attend lab leadership courses during their fellowship periods to help them move into group leader roles shortly afterwards.
A boost for science
As regards advancing science, EMBO funding helped enhance medical knowledge of the genetic changes and mutations associated with some 7 000 tumours across 19 types of human cancer. Another EMBO-funded study of 46 children and 30 adults in Sweden advanced knowledge of human brain development. This could feed into the development of treatments for neurological disorders such as autism, dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
EMBO fellowships have also helped further understanding of areas including Alzheimer’s disease, heart conditions, injuries to the central nervous system, leukaemia, and breast, lung and kidney cancer.
At the end of their fellowship, all fellows are invited to the EMBO fellows’ meeting in Heidelberg, Germany. A similar gathering is organised every two years in the USA for fellows living in North America. According to del Álamo, this represents ‘an excellent opportunity not only to present their scientific results but also for networking with other fellows’.