Three Irish-based researchers are to receive prestigious research grants totaling €8.3 million from the European Research Council (ERC).

The ERC Advanced Grants aim to allow well-established and exceptional researchers to pursue ground-breaking research.

The Irish-based scientists are from Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Their studies are in the areas of neuroscience, genetics and biomaterials.

The Thomas Mitchell Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at TCD, Professor Rhodri Cusack, is to receive €3m for his study, which will involve the use of neuro-imaging for the first time to measure the hidden changes in mental representations during infancy.

It will then compare them to predictions from deep neural networks, the same technology that has been responsible for recent dramatic advances in artificial intelligence.

The research will investigate the importance of pre-training, the learning that it does not manifest in behaviour until much later, in an effort to understand how it can shape neural representations during infancy.

Prof Cusack hopes this could revolutionise developmental neuroscience, leading to new advances in artificial intelligence, and helping the understanding of why brain injury in infants sometimes affects mental development, but sometimes does not.

Professor Fergal O'Brien from the Department of Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the AMBER material science centre will conduct research on the regeneration of cartilage in articular joints like the knee and ankle using advanced biomaterials and printing technology.

Currently, there is no successful treatment for repairing damaged cartilage, with even small defects often progressing to degenerative osteoarthritis requiring joint replacement.

The project will combine recent advances in the area of 3D printing and advanced manufacturing with new insights in stem cell and gene therapy to develop a biomaterial technology capable of repairing both bone and cartilage.

He has received almost €3m for his research from the ERC.

While Professor Kenneth Wolfe from University College Dublin has been granted €2.3m to carry out a study of killer plasmids as drivers of genetic code changes during yeast evolution.

The project will investigate the evolution of the genetic code, which is the language that the instructions in DNA are written in.

Almost all living organisms speak the same language, but Prof Wolfe's group has identified several yeast species that are exceptions to this rule.

In the ERC project, they will test a hypothesis that the genetic code in these species changed in response to an infection by a virus.

269 senior researchers across Europe are receiving a total of €653m under this year's scheme, which itself is funded by the EU's innovation fund, Horizon 2020.

Only 12% of the projects which applied for funding are receiving it.

Some of the other European projects to receive funding include a study of how air pollution affects the development of baby's brains, whether innovative heart regeneration treatments increase the long-term survival of heart attack victims and how non-living matter evolves into living systems that established themselves on Earth.