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Funding in the millions: Three scientists of TU Dresden have been awarded with ERC Starting Grants

Technische Universität Dresden


IMAGE: Dr. Jörg Mansfeld is shown. view more

Credit: Jörg Mansfeld

1. Dr. Volker Busskamp, research group leader at the DFG Research Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) - Cluster of Excellence at the TU Dresden and Volkswagen Foundation Freigeist fellow, was awarded to support his research on controlled adult stem cell differentiation to neurons.

A central objective of biomedical research is to understand the development and cure of neurodegenerative diseases. Therefore, scientists are for example in need of human neurons to examine the impact of pharmaceuticals. But the generation of neurons is in its infancy: of the many neuronal types present in the brain, only a few types have been generated in vitro in sufficient quality and quantity. The now renowned ERC project aims to reveal the biological rules of neurogenesis in human stem cells. It aims to produce different types of neural cells in the laboratory. First, so-called transcription factors (DNA-binding proteins) are examined. The approach aims to understand the rules behind switching transcription factors on or off - individually or in combination. It wants to learn about the types of cells that are developed within this differentiation process. Subsequently, a transcription factor "switchboard" will be developed. This board allows the directed programming of iPS-cells (pluripotent stem cells) into the requested neurons. To date, this production process proceeded arbitrarily in petri dishes. "Finally, based on the discoveries, me and my team will apply the biological rules to engineer human photoreceptors that can be applied to cell transplantation experiments in retinal degeneration diseases", explains Volker Busskamp. Conceptually, the ERC-funded approach will pave the way for targeted "forward" programming of human iPS cells to neurons. This also moves forward the study of the origin and production of human cell types in an ethically approved setting.

Although the ERC grant is transferable within Europe, Dr. Volker Busskamp will use the funds to recruit an international and interdisciplinary research team that will integrate into the excellent scientific community at the TU Dresden, specifically at the CRTD that is a Cluster of Excellence. "The ERC grant is the most prestigious indicator of top-notch research, and we are so pleased by Volker Busskamp's success in this program. It again highlights the high achievements of the CRTD and its researchers in the very important area of stem cells and regenerative medicine, an area that will be essential for Saxony to remain competitive in future.", emphasizes Prof. Dr. Elly Tanaka, CRTD director and research group leader.

Dr. Volker Busskamp is a trained biotechnologist who performed his PhD at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Switzerland on optogenetic vision restoration strategies. Before becoming a Freigeist fellow of the Volkswagen Foundation and a research group leader at the CRTD, he performed stem cell research and systems biology during his postdoctoral training in George Church's laboratory at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA. Dr. Volker Busskamp's work has been published in highly prestigious journals such as Science, Cell, Neuron or Molecular Systems Biology.

2. Dr. Jörg Mansfeld, Emmy Noether Group Leader at the Biotechnology Center of TU Dresden, was awarded to support his research on cell cycle and redox regulation

In light of a continuously increasing life expectancy, cancer imposes major challenges for society not only on a personal level but also for healthcare. Signatures of most cancers are aberrations in cell cycle regulation that can not only initiate but also promote tumorigenesis. Focusing on the cell cycle machinery Jörg Mansfeld's group studies how cells decide between continuous proliferation reminiscent of cancer cells, and the transition into quiescence - a dormant, non-proliferating state. Emerging evidence suggest that the redox system by virtue of reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as hydrogen peroxide as signaling molecules feeds back on cell cycle regulation. As a byproduct of their rapid growth cancer cells usually sustain much higher level of ROS compared to normal cells and thereby promote mutagenesis and increased proliferation. The targets of ROS within the cell cycle machinery, however, remain poorly understood.

"Funded by the ERC Starters grant we will now investigate how cell cycle and redox systems interact in healthy cells and will subsequently unravel the nodes between the two systems cancer cells can hijack. The ongoing controversy over antioxidants in cancer therapy illustrates the need of a better understanding of cell cycle and redox biology", explains Jörg Mansfeld. While supplementation of antioxidants in chemotherapy long has been thought to prevent cancer, recent discoveries in contrast suggest that they might also protect cancer cells from an increased and toxic production of ROS. "Shedding light on the cell cycle targets of ROS in proliferating cells we aim to provide a significantly improved basis for ROS signaling during tumorigenesis and thereby might indicate new strategies for treatment", adds Jörg Mansfeld.

With the incentives The ERC funding now allows me to enlarge my research team. Therewith I will strengthen this research field here at the BIOTEC. I appreciate Dresden as address for research because of its first-rate scientific surrounding. Partner institutes like the CRTD, BCUBE and MPI-CBG are in close proximity and enable the creation of synergies", emphasizes Jörg Mansfeld.

3. Assistant Professor Sebastian Reineke from the Institut für Angewandte Photophysik (IAPP) of TU Dresden was awarded to support his project "BILUM - Novel applications based on organic bioluminescence"

He is exploring novel applications on the basis of organic biluminescence, where organic molecules emit from two different electronic states. Consequently, such molecules act as dual color emitter on the molecular level. This effect is a virtually unexplored field offering broad fields of application. The project BILUM is clearly a fundamental research driven effort. The scientists would like to understand the structures and properties of the materials in detail, which are the essence for such efficient dual light emission. Known biluminescent emitters will be studied in detail and employed to various novel scenarios to test their fit to future applications. Biluminescence holds great potential owing its unique bandwidth and lifetime range of the emission. For example, biluminescence can be used as white-light sources, making use of the ultra-broadband emission. Or, because the two different states interact differently to the environment, one can develop organic sensors that detect different gas concentrations. Beyond the detailed investigations, BILUM also aims to develop new organic molecules, having the unique, dual-state emission properties, with improved performance.

The physicist Sebsatian Reineke studied at the TU Dresden, where he received his PhD in 2010. From 2011 to 2013, he was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge (USA) as a postdoctoral fellow. After that, he worked at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) Munich as a guest scientist, before he was appointed Assistant Professor (Juniorprofessor) for Organic Semiconductors at the TU Dresden. In the summer 2014 he joined the German Excellence Cluster cfaed of the TU Dresden as a principle investigator.


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