Jump to content
Powered by

Leibniz Awards for two Ulm University professors

Two professors from the University of Ulm have received two of the German Research Foundation’s eleven "Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme" awards. The two professors are Prof. Dr. Frank Kirchhoff, Institute of Virology, and Prof. Dr. Karl Lenhard Rudolph, Institute of Molecular Medicine and head of the Max Planck Research Group for Stem Cell Ageing.

The annual Leibniz Award has existed since 1986 and is regarded as the most prestigious research award in Germany. The award not only greatly enhances the reputation of the winners, but is also worth a great deal of money, usually 2.5 million euros. The winners are free to decide what kind of scientific work they wish to use the money for.

Prof. Dr. Frank Kirchhoff (47), Virology, Institute of Virology at Ulm University (2.5 million euros)

Prof. Dr. Frank Kirchhoff
Frank Kirchhoff is one of the world’s leading AIDS researchers. Over the last two decades, Kirchhoff has made considerable contributions to gaining a detailed understanding of the development of AIDS and in particular of the evolution of the HI virus. Kirchhoff is particularly focused on one of the HI virus’s most important protein components, the Nef protein, which has a broad range of different effects: whilst in primates, Nef reduces the pathogenesis of HI viruses, in humans, Nef loses its immunomodulating effect so that the highly pathogenic virus is able to proliferate.

Kirchhoff has also made important discoveries from research into a peptide in human blood which consists of 20 amino acid residues and which blocks the proliferation of viruses. He has made other important discoveries from research into a protein in seminal flood whose fibres catch HI viruses, enabling them to intrude into cells and increase the rate of infection. These findings provide further evidence relating to the high rate of sexual HIV transmission, at the same time as paving the way for new approaches for the prevention of HIV transmission.

With this research, Kirchhoff has made a considerable contribution to the high international profile of German AIDS research. Frank Kirchhoff studied biology in Göttingen and received his PhD from the German Primate Centre with work on a new HIV-2 clone. During his postdoctoral period at the renowned Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, Kirchhoff started working on the HIV Nef protein, which has remained the major focus of his research ever since. In 1994, Kirchhoff returned to Germany to accept a position as assistant and later professor at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. He was appointed professor at Ulm University in 2001.

Prof. Dr. Karl Lenhard Rudolph (39), Gastroenterology, Institute of Molecular Medicine and Max Planck Research Group for Stem Cell Ageing at the University of Ulm (2.5 million euros)

Prof. Dr. Karl Lenhard Rudolph

Karl Lenhard Rudolph works with telomeres, DNA motives at the end of chromosomes that become shorter as cells divide. Rudolph has carried out numerous groundbreaking projects on the process of telomere attrition and its effect. He is especially interested in the enzyme telomerase that limits the shortening of telomeres and enables more frequent cell divisions.

Rudolph has been able to show in mouse models and mouse mutants that the shortening of telomeres leads to a reduction in an organism’s lifespan and that the development of liver cirrhosis depends on telomerase activity, for example. Rudolph’s finding that telomere shortening has a two-fold but opposing role in the development of cancer: on the one hand, telomere shortening suppresses tumours; on the other hand, it is often associated with spontaneous cancer generation. Rudolph has also shown that the shortening of telomeres affects the function and lifespan of stem cells.

All this work is of great importance for basic research, but also has major therapeutic potential. After his medical studies in Göttingen and a practical year in Hanover, Karl Lenhard Rudolph spent a postdoctoral period at the Albert Einstein College in New York and at the Dana Faber Centre in Boston, where he first became interested in telomeres. In 2001, he was granted support through the DFG’s Emmy Noether Programme to establish his own research group at the Hanover Medical School. In 2006, he was one of the first to receive a Heisenberg professorship from the DFG. He then went on to become chair of the Department of Gastroenterology and head of the Max Planck Research Group for Stem Cell Ageing at the University of Ulm in 2007.

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/press-release/leibniz-awards-for-two-ulm-university-professors