Press Release No. 66/2016, 27 May 2016


Heidelberg University succeeded in gaining support from the German Research Foundation (DFG) in the latest approval round, recieving funding for four research networks. The DFG granted funds to the new Transregional Collaborative Research Centre (CRC/TRR) of the Heidelberg Medical Faculty, where researchers from Heidelberg, Freiburg and Munich will investigate viral hepatitis infections. In the molecular life sciences, Heidelberg and Berlin scientists in another new CRC/TRR will study the coordination of signal transmission in living cells. A new CRC, this one in the field of physics, will explore in experiments and theory isolated quantum systems under extreme conditions. In molecular biology, the “Cellular Surveillance and Damage Response” CRC 1036 has been approved for a second funding period. Total DFG funding for all four consortia is over 46 million euros for a period of four years.


CRC/TRR 179, “Determinants and Dynamics of Elimination versus Persistence of Hepatitis Virus Infection”

Researchers in Transregional Collaborative Research Centre 179 will study infections caused by various hepatitis viruses to determine the critical factors in healing or a chronic disease course. As Prof. Dr. Ralf Bartenschlager explains, the reproduction strategies of the hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses, for example, fundamentally differ. “Although we do know a lot, what we don’t know is how the viruses manage to outsmart the body’s defences,” says the spokesperson for the new CRC/TRR, “Determinants and Dynamics of Elimination versus Persistence of Hepatitis Virus Infection”. Until now, research concentrated mainly on decoding individual signal pathways or identifying critical molecular factors. “But if we want to understand the general mechanisms that determine whether a viral infection becomes chronic or spontaneously heals, we need an integrative approach that examines the complex interactions between viruses and the host organism from different sides,” says the virologist, who is the Director of the Molecular Virology Department at the Centre for Infectious Diseases of Heidelberg University Hospital and heads the “Infection, Inflammation and Cancer” Department at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ). In addition to researchers from Heidelberg University, teams from the Freiburg University Hospital, the Technical University of Munich, the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich and the DKFZ will be involved in the 21 total subprojects. CRC/TRR 179 will receive funding in the amount of approx. 12.1 million euros.


CRC/TRR 186, “Molecular Switches in the Spacio-temporal Control of Cellular Signal Transmission”

The research of CRC/TRR 186, “Molecular Switches in the Spacio-temporal Control of Cellular Signal Transmission”, will focus on the coordination processes in the transmission of signals in living cells that play a pivotal role in the functionality of biological systems. According to Prof. Dr. Walter Nickel of the Heidelberg University Biochemistry Center, how activated molecular switches coordinate the signals in time and space remains largely unknown. The new research network is based on the development of a large number of chemical-biological tools that can be used for broad-based, direct manipulation of molecular switches. Using extremely high-resolution light microscopy, these technologies are to be used for systematic studies in living cells. On that basis, the researchers plan on developing theoretical models to explain the spatial and temporal regulation of cellular signal transmission processes, according to Prof. Nickel, spokesperson for the consortium. The CRC/TRR will incorporate 18 scientific subprojects and two technical platforms. In addition to Heidelberg University, other participating universities include Berlin’s Free University and Humboldt University along with researchers from Heidelberg University Hospital and Charité – University Hospital Berlin. Collaborating non-university institutions include the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the European Laboratory for Molecular Biology (EMBL) in Heidelberg and the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology in Berlin. CRC/TRR 186 will receive DFG funding in the amount of approx. 11.8 million euros.


CRC 1225, “Isolated Quantum Systems and Universality under Extreme Conditions” (ISOQUANT)

The “Isolated Quantum Systems and Universality under Extreme Conditions” (ISOQUANT) CRC is focused on a research area of major importance for numerous applications – from particle physics and nuclear physics to atomic and solid state physics. Many of these systems evidence similar properties even though essential parameters such as temperature, density and field strength are markedly different. There are even universal areas in which quantitative equivalents between seemingly completely different physical systems can be observed. CRC 1225 researchers will study time-dependent phenomena as well as equilibrium properties using common approaches to support cross-discipline investigation of current questions in research. Areas under study include the thermalisation process of isolated quantum systems, the interaction of highly electromagnetic or interactive fields with a vacuum or matter, and the phase structure of systems under extreme conditions. Members of the ISOQUANT CRC include working groups from the Institute for Theoretical Physics, the Kirchhoff Institute for Physics and the Institute for Physics of Heidelberg University as well as researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg and the Vienna University of Technology in Austria. Theoretical physicist Prof. Dr. Jürgen Berges of Ruperto Carola will serve as the CRC spokesperson. The CRC, which comprises 14 subprojects, will receive DFG funding in the amount of approx. 10.5 million euros.


CRC 1036, “Cellular Surveillance and Damage Response”

CRC 1036 is devoted to the study of surveillance and quality control systems that safeguard cells from damage or disruption of cellular equilibrium. These systems register defects and release protective stress responses intended to support the survival of the cell. The investigators of the Collaborative Research Centre, which is located at the Centre for Molecular Biology of Heidelberg University (ZMBH), are examining these processes at the molecular and systemic level. Of particular interest are the surveillance systems of DNA, RNA and proteins, which are being investigated based on different model organisms. Over the next four years, the CRC will expand its research to include the structural biological analysis of the control mechanisms of proteins at the atomic level. Other central topics include quality control at the interface of protein surveillance and protein synthesis and safeguarding genome stability. Models for stress responses in multicellular organisms are also being studied. “Our long-term goal is to develop a comprehensive mechanistic understanding of the cellular surveillance systems and damage responses for all organisms,” emphasises ZMBH Director Prof. Dr. Bernd Bukau, spokesperson for CRC 1036, “Cellular Surveillance and Damage Response”. In addition to bioscientists and medical scientists at Ruperto Carola, researchers from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and the European Laboratory for Molecular Biology (EMBL) in Heidelberg are also involved in the CRC’s 20 subprojects. The ZMBH is providing central coordination. Prof. Bukau heads a cross-departmental group at the DKFZ and Co‐director of the DKFZ‐ZMBH Alliance. In the second funding period, CRC 1036 will receive approx. 12.1 million euros in funding from the DFG.



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