News about our fellows and alumni

Would you like to find out what is going on around the Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds (BIF) network? Here, you will find news about major awards, grants, and appointments, for example. In the print version of the BIF’s Futura journal, you will find a larger selection of news items.

Did you receive an award? Have you been selected as a new member of the EMBO? Or have you changed positions? Please let us know.

2023 News

In a festive ceremony in Berlin, Leif Ludwig has been awarded the Heinz Maier Leibnitz Prize of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). It is Germany’s most important junior research award and now comes with 200,000 euros for further research.

Leif Ludwig: Berlin Institute of Health and Max Delbrück Center, Berlin, Germany, MD fellowship: 2011–2012

Christine Selhuber-Unkel has received the Lautenschläger Research Prize 2023. Every two years, the prize honours special accomplishments in leading-edge research by scientists connected to Heidelberg University. Christine was recognized for her outstanding research on biohybrid, life-inspired microsystems, which researchers hope will lead to “living materials”.

Professor Christine Selhuber-Unkel: Heidelberg University, Germany, Fellowship: 2004–2006

Ivan Dikic has received the 2023 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine for his contributions to our understanding of the functions of ubiquitin and the mechanisms of  ubiquitination. He shares the award with Brenda Schulman. Established in 1986, the prize recognizes completed work and aims to encourage innovative research projects in biomedical research. Of the prize money of 500,000 Swiss francs, 90% goes to fund ongoing research, while 10% goes to the researcher personally.

Professor Ivan Dikic: University of Frankfurt, Germany, Postdoctoral award: 1997

Two of this year’s 218 ERC Advanced Grants – highly prestigious, competitive grants worth about 2.5 million euros – went to the BIF fellows Alexander Meissner and Sarah Teichmann, who are thus among the 13.2% of applicants to secure funding. In his project “CancerEpigenome: Dissecting the Cancer Epigenome – Fundamental Lessons from Developmental Biology”, Alexander will study biochemical, genetic, and physiological aspects of the placenta and cancer epigenomes,
which are strikingly similar. Using self-developed techniques and methods, he will investigate the specific molecular switches in the epigenome of the placenta,
which are likely to also exist in the cancer epigenome. In her project “ThyDesign: Learning from the Thymic Human Cell Atlas for T Cell Engineering”, Sarah will create a 3D cell atlas of the thymus to understand the external and internal influences in the microenvironment of the thymus that govern the process of T cell differentiation. She hopes the findings will advance T cell engineering, which has huge potential not only as a research tool, but also in medical applications such as immunotherapy. Sarah has also been awarded the 2023 FEBS-EMBO Women in Science Award by the Federation of the European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) and EMBO in honour of her outstanding contributions to the life sciences, particularly in protein assembly, regulation of gene expression, and single-cell phenotyping. The award also recognizes Sarah as an inspiring role model for women in science.

Professor Alexaner Meissner: MPI for Molecular Genetics, Berlin, Germany, Fellowship: 2003–2005

Professor Sarah Teichmann: Welcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, UK, Fellowship: 1997–1999

MD fellow Leif S. Ludwig has received the 2023 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Young Investigator Award for developing a new method to analyse the lifelong regeneration of cells in human blood, which is up to 1,000 times quicker, more reliable, and less expensive. With it, researchers can now determine the activity of single blood stem cells in humans with little effort. The award comes with 60,000 euros for research. 

Leif Ludwig: Berlin Institute of Health and Max Delbrück Center, Berlin, Germany, MD fellowship: 2011–2012

Three BIF fellows have received ERC Consolidator Grants. These mid-career grants come with up to two million euros in funding over a period of five years. The 2022 call attracted 2,222 proposals, 321 of which received a total of 657 million euros, making for a success rate of about 14%. In his project “ChromaDYN: Quantitative Multimodal Pulse-and-Label Time-Resolved Chromatin Maps”, Simon Elsässer will study questions of embryonal development such as how cells determine – and later remember – which line of development to follow, how different cell identities are encoded, and how the right genes are turned on and off at the right time. In his project “ArtRNA – Artificial RNA Regulators to Probe, Control, and Design Gene Regulatory Networks in Bacteria”, Kai Papenfort will develop artificial sRNA molecules to intervene in the genetics of bacteria and study the molecular mechanisms of microbial gene expression. He aims to understand gene functions and regulation circles in organisms in general and systematically investigate the response to antibiotics in pathogenic bacteria. Milka Sarris has received funding for her project “LongWayFromFlam: The Uncharted Journeys of Inflammatory Cells and their Functional Implications”. She will use zebrafish to study which cellular signals tell leukocytes to travel to the site of an infection, how these cells distinguish between healthy and inflamed tissue, and how their number is regulated at their destination to avoid an overshooting inflammatory response.

Assoc. Professor Simon Elsässer: Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, Fellowship: 2008–2010

Professor Kai Papenfort: University of Jena, Germany, Fellowship: 2006–2008

Ass. Professor Milka Sarris: University of Cambrigde, UK, Fellowship: 2003–2006

2022 News

In the last round of 2022, Julia Kamenz has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant for her project “Cell cycle in vitro”. She wants to dissect the molecular mechanism of one of the most fundamental biological clocks: the cell cycle clock, which underlies and drives cell divisions. In a novel approach, she will isolate the individual parts of the cell cycle machinery and systematically assemble them into a ‘ticking’ cell cycle clock.

Professor Julia Kamenz, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, Fellowship: 2009–2001   

Three BIF fellows have received ERC Proof-of-Concept (PoC) Grants, which come with 150,000 euros over a period of 1.5 years and enable grantees to explore the commercial or societal potential of ideas arising from projects previously funded by an ERC Simon Elsässer has been awarded his second PoC Grant for the project “hmqPro: Highly Multiplexed, Quantitative Protein Biomarker Profiling”. Grants also went to Ludger Johannes for his project “Lectibodies to Eliminate Tumours” and to Michael Sieweke for “ONCOMAC: allogeneic Macrophages for Cancer Therapy”. This was the first time these latter two researchers won such grants.

Professor Simon Elsässer, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, Fellowship: 2008–2010

Professor Ludger Johannes, Institut Curie, Paris, France, Fellowship: 1993–1995

Professor Michael Sieweke, Technical University Dresden, Germany, Fellowship: 1991–1992

Two BIF fellows have been elected as EMBO members. In 2022, 67 outstanding life scientists working in 22 different countries were honoured in this way, joining a community of more than 1,900 leading life scientists. Barbara Treutlein uses single-cell genomic, imaging, and computational tools to dissect human organoid formation and to understand how processes fail in human disease. She is also attempting to engineer better organoid models. Edward Lemke develops innovative techniques using synthetic and chemical biology in order to study the biological dynamics of intrinsically disordered proteins at high temporal and spatial resolution.

Professor Barbara Treutlein, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, Fellowship: 2009–2010

Professor Edward Lemke Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB), Mainz, Germany, Fellowship: 2003–2005

As of 1 July 2022, Dr Stephan Formella and Marc Wittstock have taken over the helm of the Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds, Foundation for basic research in medicine (BIF) from Dr Claudia Walther. The two new managing directors split the responsibilities: Dr Stephan Formella is the Managing Director Science & Research and Marc Wittstock is the Managing Director Finance & Administration. In this constellation, they have already been working for one of BIF’s sister foundations, the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation (BIS), since the middle of 2020.

Claudia Walther, herself an alumna of BIF’s PhD fellowship programme, has been with BIF for 23 years, 14 of those as its managing director. During this time, she has most successfully developed the BIF and its excellency programmes further and has played a decisive role in its professionalization. Moreover, her extensive scientific expertise together with her great personal dedication to the needs and interests of BIF’s fellows, have ensured that despite of BIF’s steady growth, the personal contact and the individual support of its young talents have always remained at the core of BIF.

Since July 2020, Stephan Formella has been Managing Director Science & Research of the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation (BIS). Before joining the foundation sector, the physician and pharmacologist has successfully served in different positions in global development and medicine at the Boehringer Ingelheim company, most recently as group leader in translational medicine.

Marc Wittstock has been Managing Director Finance & Administration of the BIS since May 2020. He spent the first 10 years of his career in banking, being a certified bank clerk and having obtained a degree in economics. He then joined the Boehringer Ingelheim company, where he worked some 13 successful years in Finance & Controlling, among other things being responsible for external accounting. Most recently, he was Head of Corporate Treasury.

During the transition phase, the three managing directors have together planned and led several BIF seminars and conferences. During these, Stephan Formella and Marc Wittstock have become familiar with – and learned to greatly appreciate – the special, stimulating, and trustful atmosphere of BIF. They are committed to continuing and further developing BIF’s programmes. And they are very much looking forward to fostering outstanding research and to seeing the lively network of stipend holders and alumni grow further from its by now 1,700 fellows.

Florian Wilfling has been selected for an ERC Starting Grant and is one of around 400 grantees from more than 4,000 applicants. He will receive 1.5 million euros for his project “Intrinsic Autophagy Receptors: Identity and Cellular Mechanisms”, in which he will investigate how specific cargoes are collected in the cell and how this process is synchronized with autophagosome formation. 

Florian Wilfling, Institute: MPI or Biophysics, Frankfurt, Germany Fellowship: 2009–2012

Two BIF alumni were among the 253 researchers to receive ERC Advanced Grants worth up to 2.5 million euros over five years. This was the third such award for both. A total of 1,735 proposals were submitted for the 2021 call, 625 million euros was disbursed, and the success rate was just below 15%. In his project “ER-REMODEL – Endoplasmic Reticulum Remodelling via ERPhagy Pathways”, Ivan Dikic aims to explore the novel idea that ubiquitin drives receptor clusters, which in turn ignite the process of membrane remodelling. In her project “Neuroheart – The "Cardiac Neurovascular Interface in Ageing”, Stephanie Dimmeler will study how nerves and blood vessels communicate in ageing hearts and why renewal lessens with age.

Professor Ivan Dikic, University of Frankfurt, Germany, Postdoctoral Award: 1997

Professor Stephanie Dimmeler, University of Frankfurt, Germany, Fellowship: 1991–1992

Three BIF fellows have received ERC Consolidator Grants. These are awarded to midcareer scientists and come with up to two million euros in funding for a five-year period. The 2021 call attracted 2,652 proposals, 313 of which were funded with a total of 632 million euros, making for a success rate of about 12%. Benjamin Judkewitz received a grant for his project “GlassBrain: Brain-Wide Processing and Whole-Body Biophysics of Directional Sound”. The researchers in his team aim to be the first to reveal the entire processing chain at the single-cell level from acoustic stimulus and mechanical transmission in the body to brain-wide neuronal activity. In his project “SwitchDecoding: Decoding the Path to Cellular Variation within Pathogen Populations”, Tim Nikolai Siegel will study the parasite responsible for sleeping sickness, Tryanosoma brucei, to understand the mechanisms that produce genetic variability in pathogen populations and those that enable pathogens to evade the immune defences of their host. The main objective of Marion Silies’ project “Adaptive Functions of Visual Systems” is to understand how the brain deals with rapidly changing light conditions and how it encodes self-motion. To do so, her team will develop genetic models not only of fruit flies, but also of  other insects such as hover flies.

Professor Benjamin Judkewitz, Charité – Universitäts-medizin Berlin, Germany, Fellowship: 2006–2008

Professor Tim Nikolai Siegel, University of Munich (LMU), Germany, Fellowship: 2005–2008

Professor Marion Silies, University of Mainz, Germany, Fellowship: 2006–2008

The DFG (German Research Foundation) has accepted BIF fellows Michael Breckwoldt and Magdalene Schlesiger into its prestigious Emmy Noether group leadership programme. Michael wants to develop imaging methods and corresponding biomarkers to visualize and understand how invasive gliomas infiltrate the brain and how they react to different treatments. The title of his project is “Translational multimodality imaging of glioma hallmarks to assess the dynamics of the immune cell landscape and tumor cell invasion during targeted therapy”. Magdalene wants to characterize the neuronal signature of long-term memory formation in the lateral entorhinal cortex and to examine how the hippocampus and the ventral tegmental area interact to build long-term memory traces.

Micheal Breckwoldt, Heidelberg University Hospital, Heidelberg, Germany, Fellowship: 2006–2007

Magdalene Schlesiger, Heidelberg University, Germany, Fellowship: 2011–2014

Matilde Galli has received an ERC Starting Grant for her project “Timing cell cycles in multicellular development”. She will study nematodes to investigate how their cells change their division patterns during development. She wants to map changes in gene activity and identify the molecules driving the changes as well as implement a new imaging platform to visualize and manipulate cell divisions in the gut in real time.

Matilde Galli, Hubrecht Institute, Utrecht, The Netherlands, Fellowhip: 2008–2010

2021 News

Kristin Tessmar-Raible and Karsten Weis have been elected as members of the European Organization for Molecular Biology (EMBO). Kristin Tessmar-Raible wants to understand the molecular calendars that control how the behaviour and physiology of animals react to cues other than sunlight, such as seasons, tides, and phases of the moon. Karsten studies how the nucleus is organized, how material is transported across its membrane as well mRNA, transport, degradation and mRNA phase separation.

In 2021, 64 outstanding life scientists working in 21 different countries have been elected to the EMBO membership, joining the community of more than 1,800 leading life scientist.

Professor Kristin Tessmar-Raible, University of Vienna, Austria, Fellowship: 2001–2003

Professor Karsten Weis, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, Fellowship: 1993–1995

Yohanns Bellaïche has received an ERC Advanced Grant for his project "Scaling-Sensitivity", aiming to study the developmental scaling of cell mechanosensitivity in epithelial tissues. All biological systems have to scale their organization and processes, such as physiology, gene expression, cell cycle etc., to their size. Yohanns will use recent developments in mechanical detection to understand how the cells regulate and sense cell size in epithelial tissues. They will look at different scales from the cytoskeleton to tissues as well as their changes over time from seconds to hours.

Yohanns Bellaïche, Institut Curie, Paris, France, Fellowhip: 1985–1989

Johannes has been named as fellow of the Royal Society New South Wales, Australia. This recognises his significant and valued contributions to food science and the translation of his work from academia to industry.

Prof. Johannes Le Coutre, University of New South Wales, New South Wales, Australia, Fellowship: 1992–1995

2020 News

Frauke Gräter and Christine Selhuber-Unkel have each been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant: Frauke wants to find out how proteins are designed to withstand mechanical forces. Such stress is known to rupture chemical bonds, producing so-called mechanoradicals. Frauke will study whether such radicals influence the ageing of collagen in our body. As of 2021, she also takes on the position as Scientific Director of the HITS for two years, a rotating position as well as join the Editorial Board of “Biophysical Journal.”

Christine’s project “Photomechanical writing of cell functions” (PHOTOMECH) aims at regulating cell functions through external physical forces. To this end, she combines photoswitchable materials with a complex optical system that uses intensive laser light pulses. This laser is intended to be used as a “pen” to write cell functions in three dimensions and to enable the growth of cell tissues. This is already her fifth ERC grant.

Professor Frauke Gräter, Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) and Heidelberg University, Germany, Fellowship: 2002–2005

Professor Selhuber-Unkel, Institute for Molecular Systems Engineering (IMSE), Heidelberg University, Germany, Fellowship: 2004–2006

Detlef Weigel leads a team from Germany, France, and the US that has been awarded one of the prestigious and highly competitive ERC Synergy Grants for the project PATHOCOM. They will use the 10 million euros to discover how pathogens team up to cause disease. They will study how frequent different types of interactions between microbes are, and how ecology and genetics alter them. The team will infect Arabidopsis thaliana plants with almost 200.000 combinations of pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacterial strains, and measure who is helped by co-infection and who is not.

Detlef has also been awarded the 2020 Novozymes Prize, endowed with 3 million Danish kroner (approx. 400,000 euros) by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The prize recognizes the outstanding research he has undertaken throughout his career, which has advanced plant research and spurred the development of innovative biotechnological solutions to breed improved crops and feed the world.

Professor Detlef Weigel, MPI for Developmental Biology, Tübingen, Germany, Fellowship: 1987–1988

Our MD programme alumnus Leif S. Ludwig has been awarded an Emmy Noether Group leader fellowship by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG – German Research Foundation) to study stem cell dynamics and mitochondrial genetics in hematopoiesis. His group is one of four junior research groups forming the Focus Area for 'Single cell approaches for personalized medicine’ jointly supported by the BIMSB/Max Delbrueck Center (MDC) and the BIH/Charité to bring state-of-the-art single cell multi-omic technologies into clinical application.

Leif Ludwig, MD, Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Berlin Institute of Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB), Berlin, Germany, Fellowship: 2011–2012

Two BIF fellows have received prestigious ERC Starting Grants worth 1.5 million euros: Maria Hondele will use hers to investigate how certain non-membrane bound organelles assemble and function, selectively accumulate macromolecules, and control the fate of messenger RNAs.

Oleg Simakov will investigate and characterize modes of genome evolution during major transitions in animal evolution on multiple levels of genome organization. He will focus particularly on the enigmatic clades of cephalopods using the emerging model organism Euprymna scolopes (the Hawaiian bobtail squid).

Professor Maria Hondele, University of Geneva, Switzerland, Fellowship: 2008–2011

Assist. Professor Oleg Simakov, University of Vienna, Austria, Fellowship: 2008–2011

Our board member Andreas Barner has received the highest distinction bestowed by the German government for services to society:
the Federal Cross of Merit, First Class. It honours his outstanding contributions to the business community and science. When presenting the award, Malu Dreyer, minister president of Rhineland-Palatinate, emphasized Barner’s energy and unwavering support for young researchers.

Professor Andreas Barner, C.H. Boehringer Sohn AG & Co. KG, Ingelheim am Rhein, Chairman of BIF's Executive Board

Simon Elsässer has received a Proof-of-Concept Grant worth 150,000 euros from the ERC for his project “Highly Multiplexed, Quantitative Epigenetic Profiling”. These grants allow researchers to explore the commercial potential of work they have done as part of a previous ERC grant. Simon has also been accepted into the 7th Generation of Future Research Leaders, a programme funded by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research. Providing 12 million Swedish kronor (approx. 1.16 million euros) over a period of five years, it supports and promotes young scholars who have the aptitude to become future leaders of academic and/or industrial research in Sweden.

Professor Simon Elsässer, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, Fellowship: 2008–2010

Sarah Teichmann has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, the UK’s most prestigious scientific organisation. The fellowship recognises her outstanding contribution to scientific understanding, through computational biology and genomics. This includes her role as co-founder and co-leader of the international Human Cell Atlas consortium initiative to map every cell type in the human body.

She has also been honoured in the 2020 Biochemical Society Awards, with the GlaxoSmithKline prize 2020. She is one of of 12 eminent scientists and exceptional early career researchers who have been chosen based on nominations from their peers, to celebrate their excellence and research achievements.

Sarah Teichmann, Wellcome Sanger Institute, Hinxton, UK, Fellowship: 1997–1999

Three BIF alumni are among the 185 researchers receiving ERC Advanced Grant worth up to 3.5 million euros in the 12th call of this funding scheme. Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said at the announcement: “By supporting frontier research, the EU enables our brightest scientists to push the frontiers of knowledge for the long-term benefit of all".

With his project “SynapsBuild: Mechanisms of Presynaptic Biogenesis and Dynamic Remodeling” Volker Haucke wants to analyse human nerve cells to understand, how presynaptic vesicles and their precursors are formed and mature, how they are transported and assembled and last but not least how these processes are coordinated and regulated. Besides the ERC Advanced Grant, Volker has also been awarded the 2020 Feldberg Prize by the Feldberg Foundation. The foundation wants to promote anglo-german scientific exchange in the sphere of experimental medical research and therefore awards the prize yearly to one outstanding researchers residing in German and to one in the UK.

With his project “BrainRedesign: Redesigning brain circuits in development” Rüdiger Klein wants to understand how the amygdala helps us to learn by attaching positive or negative emotions to events and objects. He will use so-called guidance molecules to change how the neurons in the amygdala of mice connect during development. These leads to reorganized circuits, thereby transforming the innate and learned emotional behaviour of the mice.

In his project “MultiOrganelle Design: Multiple Designer Organelles for Expanded Eukaryotic life“, Edward Lemke uses designer organelles in cells engineered to have effectively two genetic codes to study so-called intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs). These abundant proteins are very difficult to study due to their flexible and dynamic structure. The two genetic codes allow the researchers to incorporate fluorescent groups at specific locations in proteins. They can thus label proteins at multiple specific sites to visualize and study conformational changes of IDPs at unprecedented resolution without altering the host physiology of the cell.

Professor Volker Haucke, Director at Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP), Berlin, Germany, Fellowship: 1994–1997

Professor Rüdiger Klein, Director at Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Germany, Fellowship: 1988–1990

Professor Edward Lemke, Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB), Mainz, Germany, Fellowship: 2003–2005

The ERC has awarded two Proof of Concept (PoC) grants to BIF fellows. PoC grants are follow-up grants to verify the innovation potential of ideas arising from ERC-funded projects and bring the research results to a pre-demonstration stage. Yohanns Bellaïche will develop a computer algorithm that will teach itself to recognize when a biological phenomenon is about to occur in a sample observed via microscope. The programme can then adapt how images are taken, for example, by zooming in or taking more images per time. In his previous work funded by the ERC, Yohanns has already developed this type of “deep learning” programme to track and understand cell and tissue dynamics. The new project will widen the field of applicability to other phenomena. Christine Selhuber-Unkel has already been granted her third PoC grant in as many years. She will build synthetic blood vessel grafts that mimic natural vessels in the way they stiffen under pressure. They will be build from a material she has developed with her previous PoC grant.

Yohanns Bellaïche, Institut Curie, Paris, France, Fellowship: 1995–1998

Professor Christine Selhuber-Unkel, University of Kiel, Germany, Fellowship: 2004–2006