Biomedical Science

Advancement of the ZMB as an interdisciplinary research institution

The ongoing targeted development of the ZMB has received fresh impetus from an external advisory board established in 2014. Members of the ZMB Scientific Advisory Board are the Nobel laureates Prof. R. Huber (Munich), Prof. E. Neher (Göttingen) and Prof. K. Wüthrich (Zurich), as well as Prof. F. Melchior (ZMBH Center for Molecular Research at the University of Heidelberg), and the acting managing director of the Max Delbrück Centre Berlin Prof. T. Sommer. The strength of the research location is proven by success in recruiting highly qualified scientists and attracting talented students as well as  in acquiring funding for collaborative research projects. A high level of productivity in research is documented by close on 600 publications per year in peer-reviewed scientific journals over the last four years. As an indication of the high quality of the scientific publications, some fifteen percent in 2015 appeared in top international journals (impact factor >10).

There are currently 60 working groups (AG) from the Faculties of Biology, Medicine and Chemistry within the ZMB. Their work is organized in three research programmes:

  • Oncology
  • Immunology, Infectious Diseases and Transplantation
  • Molecular and Chemical Cell Biology

Four joint professorships established at the ZMB in 2011 – two belonging to the Faculty of Biology and two to the Faculty of Medicine – have now been filled. They support not only qualified and interdisciplinary research at the ZMB but also training and education within the interdisciplinary Medical Biology degree programme. 

The first joint professorship was accepted by Prof. Markus Kaiser as head of Chemical Biology in the Faculty of Biology. His group synthesizes low molecular weight bioactive chemical compounds which are applied in different cellular systems as valuable tools to decipher cellular processes. Prof. Matthias Gunzer took up the second of the joint professorships in the Medical Faculty. He heads the Institute for Experimental Immunology and Imaging and the Imaging Center (IMCES) at University Hospital Essen. The latter core facility offers state-of-the-art microscopy and imaging equipment and expertise and has been open to collaborators from in and outside the University since 2014.

Appointments to the open professorships were successfully completed recently with Professors Dominik Boos (Molecular Genetics II, Faculty of Biology) and Hendrik Streeck (Medical Biology, Faculty of Medicine). As a returning scientist under the State of NRW’s “Rückkehrer” scheme, Prof. Boos joined the ZMB from the Cancer Research UK Institute London in spring 2014. He began his research with a grant under the highly prestigious scheme and was appointed Junior Professor of Molecular Genetics II at the ZMB in October 2015. The analysis of the principles of DNA replication (DNA duplication during cell division) is at the core of his research, with a focus on large protein complexes which act as molecular switches to direct this process. 

With the appointment of Prof. Streeck the UDE Medical Faculty and the UK Essen are gaining an expert in the immune deficiency syndrome AIDS. He is working with international partners on topics including the development of a vaccine against the hitherto incurable disease. After studying medicine at the Charité Berlin, he worked at the Harvard Medical School and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, where research focused on the development of a vaccine against HIV/AIDS, before taking up the position of full professor in Essen. 

The appointment of Prof. Jürgen C. Becker, who joined the UK Essen from University Hospital Graz, further strengthens the connection between biomedical basic and translational cancer research. His professorship is financed by the German Consortium for Translational Oncology. Prof. Becker heads the Department of Translational Skin Cancer Research and is a member of both faculties, Medicine and Biology. As a skin cancer expert he focuses his research on analysis of the interaction of tumour and healthy cells and the impact of external factors like bacteria and viruses in specific cancers such as squamous Merkel cell carcinoma. 

The ZMB has also received targeted structural reinforcement in the area of Molecular and Chemical Cell Biology. In addition to the appointment of Prof. Stefan Westermann  from the IMP Vienna to the professorship in Molecular Genetics and Prof. Dominik Boos, research and education at the ZMB are benefiting from the collaboration of the directors of the MPI for Molecular Physiology Dortmund Prof. Andrea Musacchio (Mechanistic Cell Biology) and Prof. Stefan Raunser, the latter an international expert in the field of cryo-electron microscopy, as honorary professors.

Beyond the joint professorships, the core facilities are another key structural element of the ZMB as a research centre. In addition to the Imaging Center Campus Essen (ICCE) headed by Prof. Hemmo Meyer and the IMCES at the University Hospital, an ultramodern Analytics Core Facility Essen (ACE) was established during the reporting period under the leadership of Prof. Markus Kaiser and Dr. Farnusch Kaschani and focuses on protein analytics and the characterization of components of large protein complexes. In the area of protein analytics the new centre complements the NMR spectroscopy unit in the Department of Structural and Medical Biochemistry, headed by Prof. Peter Bayer, on campus. In addition, Genomics Facilities including the BioChip Lab headed by Dr. Lutger Klein-Hitpass and the Department of Genome Informatics (Prof. Sven Rahmann, Institute for Human Genetics) are available at the UK Essen.

The interdisciplinary research approach is underlined by joint collaborative research projects involving the three faculties. The DFG-funded Collaborative Research Centre (SFB/CRC) 1093 “Macromolecular Chemistry on Proteins” with its coordinator Prof. Thomas Schrader and co-coordinator Prof. Carsten Schmuck (Faculty of Chemistry) began its work in April 2014. In addition to groups from Chemistry and Medicine, eight groups from the Faculty of Biology are taking part in this CRC. Groups from Chemistry and Biology are also collaborating with groups from Medicine in CRC/TRR60, which was established in 2009 and entered its second funding period in January 2014.

Networking between ZMB research and institutes from the Ruhr region is also reflected in CRC 1093. In addition to Prof. Andrea Musacchio as director of the MPI Dortmund, Dr. Elsa Sanchez-Garcia represents the MPI für Kohlenforschung Mülheim as head of the junior research group. Dr. Sanchez-Garcia is a theoretical chemist and studies molecular interactions in chemical and biological systems. In summer 2015 she was awarded the prestigious “PLUS3” grant of the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is likewise a priority in the area of academic education and teaching. The very popular Medical Biology degree course is jointly organized by the Faculties of Biology and Medicine. Coordinated by the BIOME graduate school (headed by Prof. Ulf Dittmer; coordinator Delia Cosgrove), doctoral training is organized in cores coordinated by members of the Faculties of Biology and Medicine and builds on the graduate training groups. Additional networking in graduate training with the MPI Dortmund has recently been implemented with the admission of five ZMB members to the international Max Planck Research School in Chemical and Molecular Biology (IMPRS).