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LMU researchers highly endowed with EU funding

Munich, 10/26/2009

Two junior researchers from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich shall each receive a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). Professor Jens Michaelis, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and PD Dr. David Vöhringer, Institute of Immunology, shall receive grants amounting to 1.4 and 1.7 million Euros over five years. With its Starting Grant, the ERC supports highly creative researchers in order to encourage pioneering frontier research.

Professor Jens Michaelis will be studying how DNA is structurally rearranged in the cell nucleus in his project “ATP-dependent nucleosome remodeling – Single molecule studies and super-resolution microscopy”. In higher cells, the threadlike DNA molecule wraps around so-called histone proteins, together forming larger units called nucleosomes. Packed tightly like this, the DNA is protected, but sections of it have to be kept constantly accessible. Only so can the genetic information be read and the DNA duplicated for cell division, for example. This restructuring of nucleosomes is therefore an essential cellular process and, despite extensive experimental effort, its mechanistic detail is still not perfectly understood. This is where the 1.4 million Euros sponsored project comes in: Michaelis intends to visualize this dynamic and energy-consuming nucleosome restructuring at the molecular level. Highly complex microscopic techniques, some of which originated in the physicist’s own lab, will at last help demonstrate this tiny-scale process in a mechanistic model.

Jens Michaelis was born in 1971 in Mainz. After studying physics at Ulm University, he moved to the University of Oregon, USA. Jens Michaelis earned his doctorate in 2000 at Universität Konstanz with his thesis on “Microscopy with a single-molecule light source”. Following this, he worked as a postdoc for three years at the University of Berkeley, USA. In 2003, he came to the Institute of Physical Chemistry of LMU Munich as the head of a research group. For his successful work, he was appointed junior professor in 2006. He has been a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and has been working in the cluster of excellence Center for Integrated Protein Science Munich (CIPSM) since 2008.

The project “Persistence of allergic sensitization” of PD Dr. David Vöhringer shall be funded with the maximum grant of more than 1.7 million Euros. The immunologist intends to study immune factors essential to the onset of allergy. This misguided response by the body’s defenses already concerns up to a quarter of the population in the western industrial nations, according to estimates, and the trend is upward. An allergic reaction is triggered by the activation of mast cells and basophilic granulocytes. Both types of immune cell are activated by so-called IgE antibodies, which recognize harmless substances – the respective allergens – and thus trigger the undesired immune response. The IgE immunoglobulins can bind onto mast cells and basophilic granulocytes and remain in the body for many years, thereby causing the allergy to persist. From a therapeutic perspective, it would be desirable to eliminate IgE-producing B cells selectively. In the scope of his EU-funded project, Vöhringer shall be addressing various problems concerning the formation and lifespan of IgE-producing B cells.

David Vöhringer was born in 1970 in Stuttgart. He studied biology at the Universities of Tübingen and Freiburg. In Freiburg, he earned his doctorate with his thesis on “T cell mediated autoimmune hepatitis and characterization of the Killer cell Lectin-like Receptor G1”. Following that, he worked from 2002 to 2005 as a postdoc at the University of California in San Francisco, USA. In 2005, he came to the Institute of Immunology of LMU Munich as the head of an Emmy Noether junior research group. He completed his habilitation in 2008.

About the ERC Starting Grant:
The ERC assesses the scientific excellence of the applicant and his or her proposal. The projects must deal with highly innovative research: risky, but leading to promising insights if successful. The project should include cooperative efforts and a high degree of multidisciplinarity. This EU program for promoting pure research was first established in 2007.


Prof. Dr. Jens Michaelis
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Munich Center for Integrated Protein Science
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 2180-77561

PD Dr. David Vöhringer
Institute of Immunology
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 2180-75646

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