Biomedical Science

Successful fundraising for collaborative research projects

The acquisition of the Collaborative Research Centre “Supramolecular Chemistry on Proteins” is an extraordinary success. Within this CRC, which started in April 2014, modern findings and technologies of supramolecular chemistry are applied to biological questions. The CRC coordinator is Prof. Thomas Schrader, Faculty of Chemistry. The goal is to apply chemical methods to synthesize large molecules which are constructed as “molecular tweezers” of protein and used in the analysis of biochemical mechanisms.

Also in spring 2014, CRC/TRR60 started into its second funding period. Its goal is expressed in the title of the transregional collaborative research project between the Universities of Duisburg-Essen, Wuhan, Bochum, and Shanghai: “Mutual interaction of chronic viruses with cells of the immune system: from fundamental research to immunotherapy and vaccination”. At the same time, the new research training group RTG 1949 “Immune Response in Infectious Diseases – Regulation between Innate and Adaptive Immunity” (coordinator Professor Astrid M. Westendorf) was approved by the DFG. 

A further indicator of the extraordinary position of the UDE as a regionally and internationally recognized research location for immunology and infectious diseases is the launch of an international science network dedicated to research into the immune system. Mye-EUNITER (European Network of Investigators Triggering Exploratory Research on Myeloid Regulatory Cells) is funded by the EU and coordinated by Prof. Sven Brandau, immunologist and head of research at the ENT Clinic of University Hospital Essen. 

The research network is dedicated to regulatory white blood cells, myeloid cells, a subgroup of leucocytes. Mye-EUNITER aims to establish technical standards for the characterization and analysis of these cells with a specific focus on the systematic and standardized definition of characteristics and functions of subgroups in physiology and pathophysiology. The long-term goal is to pave the way for the use of myeloid cells as biomarkers of human disease and to develop new therapies based on targeted functional modification of these cells.

Another great success is the acquisition of a new research training group, RTG 2098 “Biomedicine of the acid sphingomyelinase/acid ceramidase system” by Prof. Erich Gulbins, head of the Institute of Molecular Biology at the UK Essen; the deputy coordinator of the RTG is Prof. Wiebke Hansen. At the core of the RTG are sphingolipids, important lipid components of the cell membrane structurally derived from the unsaturated amino alcohol sphingosine. Recent research results imply that they are involved in a multitude of cellular processes. 

The DFG Research Training Group “Molecular Determinants of the Cellular Radiation Response and their Potential for Response Modulation” (RTG 1739) began its work in 2011 and is coordinated by Prof. Verena Jendrossek. Radiation therapy is one of the most important and effective therapeutic options in cancer treatment, and this project is aimed at advancing basic research. The topic is also addressed in the project “Identification of molecular targets and signaling networks that modulate radiation hypersensitivity and radiation resistance” within the BMBF ZISS cluster; the programme has recently received an additional grant for 2015-2016. A structured programme for PhD students in this field also started this year: the EU-funded Marie Sklodvska Curie innovative Training Network “Radiate”. 

RTG 1431 “Transcription, Chromatin Structure and DNA Repair in Development and Differentiation”, coordinated in its starting phase by Prof. Ann Ehrenhofer-Murray (Humboldt University of Berlin) and in the second period by Prof. Hemmo Meyer (Molecular Biology I at the UDE), ended in 2015 after 9 years of funding, with an extension for completion of ongoing projects. The RTG was not only successful in its research but also played a central role in the BIOME graduate school and was a factor driving the establishment of an inter-faculty network of research in Biomedical Sciences at the UDE. The sustainability of this network is evidenced by the recent grant application for a new CRC within the ZMB picking up the research topics of RTG 1431. The RTG achieved international visibility by organizing scientific workshops with international speakers; events included the successful closing symposium on “Chromatin regulation in cell proliferation and differentiation” in September 2015.

ZMB researchers are further involved in several DFG priority programmes (SPP). The recent prolongation of the THYROID TRANS ACT (SPP 1629) programme for an additional three years until 2018 is one highlight. One of the three coordinators of the priority programme at 14 research locations in Germany is Prof. Dagmar Führer, director of the Clinic for Endocrinology and Metabolism at University Hospital Essen and a ZMB member. At the centre of its research is the thyroid gland, a small organ secreting hormones that influence vital functions throughout the body, directing the metabolism, differentiation of cells, and the function of almost all organs. Dysfunctions of the thyroid gland can cause severe disease. At around 1.35 million euros, the largest part of the funding in the extension phase is going to the Clinic for Endocrinology in Essen.

Beyond the RTG 2098, a DFG-funded research unit FOR 2123 “Sphingolipid dynamics in infection control” is dealing with the function of sphingolipids. Together with scientists from the University of Würzburg, the groups of Prof. Gulbins and Dr. Grassmé (Institute for Molecular Biology, UK Essen) study their role during infection of host cells by pathogens, especially bacteria.