Header (Kopie) (Kopie)

medac research award 2023 for cutting-edge research

The Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology (Leibniz-HKI) has awarded the medac research award to the institute's best publications of 2023. The award recognizes groundbreaking research work that has been carried out in collaboration between different teams at the Leibniz-HKI. Amongst the awardees are scientists associated with the Cluster of Excellence Balance of the Microverse.

Complex microbiological and infection biology issues often require an interdisciplinary approach. In order to promote cooperation between researchers from different disciplines, the Leibniz-HKI grants the medac research award annually to the most successful team-based research publications at the institute. The pharmaceutical company medac GmbH from Wedel near Hamburg has sponsored the award, which is endowed with 20,000 euros, since 2004. The scientific advisory board selects the best work from the proposals submitted each year. All publications deal with the core topics of the institute and are characterized by particularly close cooperation between several research units. This time, the author teams of four publications from 2023 were given the award:

An international team from several research institutes led by Martin Klapper and Anan Ibrahim from the Department of Palaeobiotechnology under the direction of Pierre Stallforth and Christina Warinner, who is associated with the Leibniz-HKI, joined forces to bring Stone Age molecules back to “life”. The group reconstructed natural substances from the dental calculus of humans and Neanderthals, which they were able to extract using bioinformatic methods from DNA fragments of previously unknown bacteria that are tens of thousands of years old. The group intends to use these methods to search for new active substances from the past.

A team led by Bastian Seelbinder from the Microbiome Dynamics department has been studying the human gut microbiome. Together with Sascha Brunke’s team, they discovered that some bacterial species provide information about the quantities of potentially pathogenic yeasts of the genus Candida. Surprisingly, these indicator bacteria also include lactic acid bacteria. These were previously known to protect against fungal infections.

Ying-Yin Chaos’s team from the Department of Infection Immunology, headed by Christina Zielinski, together with other research groups, discovered previously unknown functions of immune cells. A specific group of T-helper cells, which are essential for the immune system, have special abilities: Inside of them, they can convert a protein for the formation of certain signaling molecules, which can then be released through holes formed in the cell membranes. These molecules, in turn, attract other cells that destroy the yeast fungus Candida albicans, which can cause serious diseases.

A team around Leijie Jia from the Department of Molecular and Applied Microbiology has discovered that fungi can hijack human lung cells. The pathogenic fungus Aspergillus fumigatus survives in the lungs by binding human proteins and thus outwitting the cell’s defenses. The researchers, led by Axel Brakhage, have thus discovered a possible new starting point against the often fatal fungal infection.

The medac research award recognizes and promotes successful teamwork within the Leibniz-HKI and beyond. Ilse Jacobsen, Deputy Director of the Institute and Professor of Microbial Immunology at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration: “Truly new research results are always produced in a race against time and in competition with our colleagues worldwide. Only as a team, with ‘good chemistry’ between the participants and different areas of expertise, can we provide our own impetus on the international stage. The culture of scientific cooperation cannot be taken for granted, it must be cultivated.”

medac GmbH has been closely associated with the Leibniz-HKI for decades. The internationally active company with a focus on oncological preparations and a seat on the Institute’s Board of Trustees uses the research award to specifically promote cooperation between scientists in order to advance new ideas in the fight against diseases, even if these are outside of its own business. The award-winning work represents scientific breakthroughs and is recognized as an important contribution to a successful scientific career. “Dedicated employees pool their different skills – this recipe for success applies to both companies and research. The development of the Leibniz-HKI is a good example of how cooperation pays off in the long term and brings benefits for an entire location. Because after all, by working together we can achieve more than alone,” says medac Managing Director Heiner Will.

Honored publications

Klapper M et al. (2023). Natural products from reconstructed bacterial genomes of the Middle and Upper Paleolithic. Science 380(6645): 619-624.

Seelbinder B et al. (2023). Candida expansion in the human gut is associated with an ecological signature that supports growth under dysbiotic conditions. Nature Communications 14: 2673.

Chao YY et al. (2023). Human Th17 cells engage gasdermin E pores to release IL-1α upon NLRP3 inflammasome activation. Nature Immunology 24: 295–308.

Jia LJ et al. (2023). Aspergillus fumigatus hijacks human p11 to redirect fungal-containing phagosomes to non-degradative pathway. Cell Host & Microbe 31(3): 373-388.

Text: Friederike Gawlik
Picture: medac Managing Director Heiner Will (left) congratulates prizewinner Anan Ibrahim. © Anna Schroll/Leibniz HKI