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DKFZ trainee wins Helmholtz Apprentice Award with a stem cell culture

No. 16a | 08/04/2016 | by SK / Sel

A great success for one of DKFZ's young staff members: 22-year old Franziska Pilz came second in the Helmholtz Apprentice Award. The jury commended her for her “significant contribution to the further development of stem cell research and for her independent, proactive and responsible work”. Franziska Pilz who is currently training to be a biology laboratory assistant, worked on a project on the stem cell niche. She accepted her award on April 7.

Franziska Pilz
© Tobias Schwerdt, DKFZ

“I'm really delighted and also a little bit proud”, Franziska Pilz comments. In her 2nd year of training she was part of the junior research group around Marieke Essers at DKFZ and at the stem cell institute HI-STEM and worked on the interaction between hematopoietic stem cells and niche cells. Niche cells are mainly located in bone marrow and produce a number of factors that help hematopoietic stem cells to survive. They create a “micro- environment” for the stem cell, the so-called niche. Together with her supervisor Andrea Kuck, Franziska Pilz managed to establish a novel cell culture system. Together with niche cells, the hematopoietic stem cells could be maintained in cell cultures for up to two weeks. This has not been achieved before. Using the so-called “co-culture”, conditions of a living organism can be re-created, which is a crucial step in the study of hematopoietic stem cells.

Group leader Marieke Essers explains that Franziska Pilz' work “played a significant part in the excellent scientific results of our group”. Trainer Andrea Kuck was particularly impressed with Franziska Pilz' technical expertise and her strong commitment: “It was impressive how she managed to stay motivated throughout this difficult project.” Pilz' work will now even be incorporated into a scientific publication. The Helmholtz Association pointed out that considering her young age, this really is an incredible success.

Franziska Pilz grew up in Pinneberg near Hamburg. She made her first acquaintance with the DKFZ during an internship while she was still at school, and later applied for a training position as a biology technician. “I was really happy when I got the place” she remembers. In the meantime, she has lived in Heidelberg for 3 years. One particular highlight was an internship at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, which was funded by the EU through the Erasmus Plus Program. The work in Marieke Essers' group was equally important: “I have met some wonderful people who have become something like a second family”. The 22-year old enjoys the diversity of laboratory work, but also the required theoretical background. “The chance to develop and learn something completely new is really important to me.”

Franziska Pilz is due to complete her training in July 2016. Following on from this, she has already secured herself a position for two years in another department at DKFZ. “I enjoy living in Heidelberg very much and would like to stay here.”

This is already the second time that the Helmholtz Association has granted this award, which honors trainees at the 18 Helmholtz centers for outstanding achievements and contributions to scientific research.

The DKFZ places great emphasis on training. Around 120 trainees in 6 different vocations and in 5 dual degree programs work in exciting research projects or research-supportive activities. Many of them achieve very good results and complete their training ahead of time. DKFZ trainees regularly receive Chamber's Best Apprentice awards.

A photo of Franziska Pilz is available at

Source: Tobias Schwerdt, DKFZ

With more than 3,000 employees, the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) is Germany’s largest biomedical research institute. DKFZ scientists identify cancer risk factors, investigate how cancer progresses and develop new cancer prevention strategies. They are also developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to questions relating to cancer.

To transfer promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improve the prognosis of cancer patients, the DKFZ cooperates with excellent research institutions and university hospitals throughout Germany:

  • National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT, 6 sites)
  • German Cancer Consortium (DKTK, 8 sites)
  • Hopp Children's Cancer Center (KiTZ) Heidelberg
  • Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON Mainz) - A Helmholtz Institute of the DKFZ
  • DKFZ-Hector Cancer Institute at the University Medical Center Mannheim
  • National Cancer Prevention Center (jointly with German Cancer Aid)
The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.


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