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Cell biologist to be awarded first “Distinguished Guest Professorship“ in Tübingen

Every year for the next three years, the Russian molecular biologist and medical doctor Prof. Dr. Peter M. Chumakov is to spend one to two weeks researching and lecturing at the University of Tübingen. This special form of international exchange is being funded for three years by the Baden-Württemberg government with the aim of strengthening Tübingen’s competence through cooperation with distinguished scientists from other universities.

The Baden-Württemberg government has launched the “Distinguished Guest Professorships” programme in support of the German government’s Excellence Initiative. Therefore, applications by academic institutions are restricted to institutions that are either already being funded under the Excellence Initiative or are preparing their participation in a project under the Excellence Initiative. Prof. Dr. Alfred Nordheim is director of the Interfaculty Institute of Cell Biology at the University of Tübingen and a member of the group that has applied for funding for the international graduate school “Molecular and Developmental Cell Systems”. “Our application was positively evaluated in the first phase of the second round of the German Excellence Initiative and we have been asked to prepare a full proposal, which we are working on at the moment,” said Nordheim.

Excellence funding at the state level

Professor Dr. Peter M. Chumakov. © Friedhelm Albrecht

Although the submission of the graduate school proposal was time-consuming, Nordheim also found the time to submit a proposal for “Distinguished Guest Professorships”. “This definitely generates synergies, because we have integrated the “Distinguished Guest Professorships” concept into our graduate school plans,” said Nordheim. The “Distinguished Guest Professorship” was approved in early 2011 and awarded to Prof. Dr. Peter M. Chumakov on 4th March 2011. Chumakov is an internationally renowned expert in molecular tumour biology and “truly cosmopolitan”, as Nordheim put it. Chumakov is head of a research group at the Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow as well head of a group at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute of the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, USA.
“Around ten years ago, I decided to establish a second laboratory in the USA in addition to my laboratory in Russia. This has made a major contribution to improving the scientific exchange between the two sites,” said Chumakov whose frequent changes of location do not seem to pose him any problems. Chumakov also took on the challenge of establishing a university research institute in Novosibirsk. “This institute puts scientists who previously worked at four different institutions under the same roof. The scientists previously worked at pure research institutes. As the new institute is part of the University of Novosibirsk, they are now also involved in teaching,” said Chumakov.

Tübingen will be integrated into Chumakov’s global research axis

Tübingen Distinguished Guest Professor Chumakov with Professor Nordheim © Lehman

Chumakov established personal contacts with Nordheim around two years ago when the cell biologist from Tübingen spent some time in Moscow. Once a year, the Engelhardt Institute invites an international speaker to give the Engelhardt lecture to celebrate the birthday of the man after whom the institute is named. “In 2009, I was selected. Of course, I knew about Chumakov’s work before this invitation to give a lecture. Chumakov’s special work area is the mechanisms that control the genetic stability of cells. His major research focus concentrates on the function of the tumour suppressor protein p53,” said Nordheim. When Nordheim first heard about the “Distinguished Guest Professorships” programme, he immediately thought of Chumakov, and Chumakov quickly communicated his readiness to take on the challenge.

The funds, provided in equal parts by the Baden-Württemberg government and the University of Tübingen, cover the Russian guest’s travel and living expenses. The funding also covers the salary and material expenses of a doctoral student who will be jointly supervised by Chumakov and a scientist from Tübingen. As cooperation partner, Chumakov has chosen the independent group leader Dr. Tassula Proikas-Cezanne who works on the topic of autophagy in human cancer cells. “Although the theme of the final project has not yet been determined, the cooperative project will focus on the investigation of the cellular mechanisms of autophagy and the role of p53 in these processes,” said Nordheim. “p53 has many effects. Previous work has shown that there is a complex interplay between p53 and autophagy regulation, as the p53 tumour suppressor has been shown to positively regulate autophagy as well as inhibit it. We now want to find out how these processes are regulated,” added Chumakov.

Beneficial for both partners and for international cooperation

In addition to the scientific progress arising from the joint work, the two partners will also benefit from their cooperation in other respects. “International guests and the perspective a foreign scientist brings to our research are very important, both for our scientists as well as our students. We offer doctoral students from our numerous consortia the possibility of individual talks with Prof. Chumakov to exchange their thoughts and expertise. He will then make comments, give valuable tips and also come up with criticism,” said Nordheim. Chumakov has already visited Tübingen three times in 2011, which means that he has actually fulfilled his obligations under the programme. “But he seems to enjoy it here in Tübingen,” said Nordheim, who confides with a smile that his Russian partner will very probably visit Tübingen several more times this year.

Chumakov considers it both extremely important and inspiring to cultivate cooperation between research partners in different countries. “Meeting new scientists is a breath of fresh air for me. It leads to new ideas that stimulate our studies,” said Chumakov highlighting the outstanding profile of the research carried out in Tübingen. In 2012, Chumakov will continue to be involved in teaching activities at Tübingen University. “We will integrate special lectures into our master’s and doctoral courses,” confirmed Nordheim.

Further information:
Eberhard Karls University Tuebingen
Inter-departmental institute for Cell Biology
Division of molecular biology
Prof. Dr. Alfred Nordheim
Auf der Morgenstelle 15
72076 Tuebingen
phone: +49 7071/ 29-78898
E-Mail: alfred.nordheim(at)uni-tuebingen.de

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/cell-biologist-to-be-awarded-first-distinguished-guest-professorship-in-tuebingen