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.
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.