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European million grants for three DKFZ researchers

No. 20a | 07/04/2017 | by Sel

Three scientists from the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) have each been awarded one of the prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grants comprising €2 million. One of the grants goes to Hans-Reimer Rodewald, who has developed a barcode system that makes it possible to track the path of immune system cells in the living organism. Tobias Dick is studying how reactive oxygen compounds in altered metabolism influence an organism's resistance. Bernd Bukau, who also pursues research at the University of Heidelberg, wants to find out how proteins are given their final outfit.

From left to right: Bernd Bukau, Hans-Reimer Rodewald, Tobias Dick
© Roman Jowanowitsch/DKFZ

Established in 2007, the European Research Council (ERC) supports fundamental research with the goal of promoting visionary projects and opening up new interdisciplinary fields of research. For excellent established researchers, the ERC has annual calls for proposals for its Advanced Grants, which are awarded in a highly competitive scheme. "It is a tremendous success for the DKFZ that three of our scientists at once have been selected in this year's round of calls," said Michael Baumann, Chairman of the Management Board of the DKFZ.

Hans-Reimer Rodewald leads the Division of Cellular Immunology at the DKFZ. He is interested in the "family relationships" of cells in the immune system. In order to find out which processes underlie the formation and maintenance of immune system tissues, Rodewald and his co-workers developed a "barcode system". To this end, the scientists constructed a "genetic chance generator". As a result, cells that have been labeled in this way exhibit in their genome an artificial, neutral code that they pass on to their offspring. This facilitates conclusions about how tissues or cell lines are generated. "In this way, we found out that some blood stem cells in the bone marrow produce many different cell types while others generate only a few," said Rodewald. With his team, he now plans to use and enhance the barcode system with the goal of uncovering the secrets of the composition of various tissues in the body. The principle of this experiment may also help elucidate the family relationships of cells in other organs such as the brain or the liver, or to differentiate between a primary tumor and metastases in experimental models.

Tobias Dick leads the Division of Redox Regulation at the DKFZ. He investigates how hydrogen peroxide and other oxidants in the cells act as chemical messengers. "These molecules facilitate, for example, rapid responses to stress conditions," the biochemist explained. With his team, he has already been able to prove that oxidants in stress situations do not move freely in the cell; instead, they are caught by special proteins that transmit the signal via a cascade of other proteins to a specific target. "The ERC Grant will now enable us to study and comprehend the whole complexity of these so-called redox signaling pathways," said Dick, who is very pleased about the grant comprising €2 million. "Ultimately, it may become possible to specifically attack disrupted signaling pathways such as in a cancer cell."

Bernd Bukau leads the joint research department "Chaperones and Proteases" of the Center for Molecular Biology in Heidelberg (ZMBH) and the DKFZ. Bukau, a molecular biologist, is also the director of the DKFZ-ZMBH Alliance, which over the past ten years has closely linked molecular cell research activities of both institutes. Bukau is studying how the cell produces proteins. He sketched out the main goal of his group's research program: "Ribosomes use individual amino acids to synthesize polypeptide chains. We want to find out how they are subsequently given their three-dimensional structure and how several proteins are assembled into the active protein complexes." Talking about the EU funding, he added: "With the ERC Grant, we plan to uncover the molecular mechanisms of this process in the yeast model system and in human cells. We are very happy that the ERC grant will now enable us to provide answers to these pivotal research questions."

An image of the three grant recipients is available for download at:

Caption: From left to right: Bernd Bukau, Hans-Reimer Rodewald, Tobias Dick

Note on use of images related to press releases
Use is free of charge. The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) permits one-time use in the context of reporting about the topic covered in the press release. Images have to be cited as follows: "Source: Jowanowitsch/DKFZ".
Distribution of images to third parties is not permitted unless prior consent has been obtained from DKFZ's Press Office (phone: ++49-(0)6221 42 2854, E-mail: Any commercial use is prohibited.

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institution in Germany. At DKFZ, more than 1,300 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. DKFZ’s Cancer Information Service (KID) provides individual answers to all questions about cancer for patients, the general public, and health care professionals. Jointly with partners from Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ runs the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) located in Heidelberg and Dresden, and, also in Heidelberg, the Hopp Children’s Cancer Center (KiTZ). In the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center at the NCT and DKTK sites is an important contribution to the endeavor of translating promising approaches from cancer research into the clinic in order to improve the chances of cancer patients. DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.


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