Dr. Jan Hasenauer

Investigating the Mechanisms of Life Using Engineering Tools

Dr. Jan Hasenauer, head of the young investigators group ‘Data-driven Computational Modeling’ unravels biological systems using tools from the engineering. His goal: to develop mathematical models to improve the understanding of mechanisms in living organisms and to test scientific hypotheses. If successful, this will for instance enable more accurate predictions of the effects of treatment for individual patients.

As an undergraduate, Dr. Jan Hasenauer studied Engineering Cybernetics in Stuttgart. During his Diploma studies, his passion for biological systems awoke – in his words due to their “impressive complexity”. Not surprisingly, PhD studies in the interdisciplinary field of systems biology followed. His dissertation topic: Modelling and parameter estimation for heterogeneous cell populations. “Initially I focused on the development of novel methods, latter I wanted to apply these methods to answer relevant biological questions,” the scientist said. For his graduate studies he chose the Helmholtz Zentrum München because it is "one of the leading research institutions in this field." Jan Hasenauer became a postdoc with Professor Hans-Werner Mewes at the Institute of Bioinformatics and Systems Biology (IBIS). Later the engineer became team leader and then leader of a young investigators group with Professor Fabian Theis at the Institute of Computational Biology (ICB). At the same time Jan Hasenauer lectures at Technische Universität München in order “to inspire students for research”.

Understanding biological processes

“My young investigators group Data-driven Computational Modeling focuses on the development of mechanistic mathematical models for biological systems,” Jan Hasenauer said. During his PhD studies he was fascinated by the development of models and methods. At that time the focus was on modeling of the heterogeneity of cell populations. What seems very theoretical at first glance is also interesting for experimental researchers. Jan Hasenauer collaborates with numerous research groups at the Center. Together with PD Dr. Irmela Jeremias of the Department of Gene Vectors (AGV) he develops models for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In collaboration with Dr. Hernán Lopez-Schier of the Research Unit Sensory Biology and Organogenesis (SBO) the focus is on how lateral line organs of zebrafish develop. The process has many similarities with the development of neural connections in the human brain. The interface: How can information about biochemical processes, in particular regulation processes, and on cell-cell interactions be gained from imaging data?

Bridging the gap between research and application

Partnerships also exist with industry, e.g. with Alacris Theranostics in Berlin. “In joint projects high-throughput data are obtained from patient samples in order to develop parameterized individualized models.” The aim is to make statistical predictions for the success of a treatment on the basis of mutations and expression levels. Such information can be communicated back to the hospital, for instance to adapt treatment plans. Jan Hasenauer: “At present the development of such large-scale mechanistic models still presents a challenge, but we hope that within the next two years we can automate the process to a great extent and bridge the gap to application.