Dr. Vigo Heissmeyer

Enthusiasm and optimism as career catalysts

Dr. Vigo Heissmeyer discovered his passion for research as a postdoc in the U.S. Together with other highly ambitious scientists at Harvard Medical School in Boston, he experienced the excitement of embarking on a new venture.

The period at Harvard had a catalyst effect on Heissmeyer and his career: “Nobel laureates from every discipline work there,” he said. “You can find leading experts to help you solve your problem within only a five minutes’ walking distance. The open atmosphere allows students to approach the famous scientists at any time and ask questions.“ There he also learned that “the most important thing is to have confidence in yourself, get suggestions from experts and commit yourself to something new“.

Arbeitsgruppe Heissmeyer
Arbeitsgruppe Heissmeyer

Heissmeyer is now working at Helmholtz Zentrum München as leader of the research unit „Molecular Immune Regulation“ in the Institute of Moleculare Immunology . His research field is the Roquin protein, which plays a key role in immune defense. Working together, the researchers discovered in what way Roquin prevents autoimmune diseases. Heissmeyer’s aim is now to alter the function of the protein so that immune diseases can be cured.

Research as treasure hunt

“What we do is a kind of treasure hunt,” Heissmeyer said. “We are entering completely uncharted territory in order to make biomedical discoveries, because we do not yet know how exactly this protein works and how it is regulated.”

He expects from his team the same characteristics that he deems to be key factors in achieving success: the ability to work independently and assume responsibility for one’s own work, a pioneer spirit, and creativity. In his view, this approach convinced the European Research Council (ERC): In 2011 he was awarded an ERC Starting Grant. “Project proposals get a high evaluation if they explore terra incognita,”Heissmeyer said. The grant, worth approximately EUR 1.4 million, will enable him to expand his young team and implement his research proposal.

Successful through cooperation

“Working by themselves, cellular immunologists would not be able to define at the molecular level what is going wrong in a disease and develop possible therapeutic interventions. For this you need an interdisciplinary research design,”Heissmeyer explained. Because he found the right conditions for this at Helmholtz Zentrum München, he turned down appointments to the University of Toronto and to the University of Magdeburg and today is active in collaborations and cooperative projects at the Center.

Using research results therapeutically

Roquin has a key molecular function that is crucial in various pathophysiological changes — thus also in diabetes mellitus. “Our basic research is oriented toward deriving therapeutic applications from the findings,“ Heissmeyer said.

Colleagues at the Center


  • since 2011: Award of a European Research Council Starting Grant
  • since 2009: Group leader at Helmholtz Zentrum München – Institute of Molecular Immunology
  • since 2008: Work on postdoctoral thesis in the Department of Biology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich
  • 2005-2009: Junior research group leader at GSF/ Helmholtz Zentrum München – Institute of Molecular Immunology
  • 2001-2005: Postdoc at Harvard Medical School, Center for Blood Research
  • 2000-2001: Postdoc at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine
  • 2000: PhD degree at the Free University of Berlin
  • 1995-1999: Doctoral dissertation at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine
  • 1995: Diploma in Biology at the Free University of Berlin
  • 1994-1995: Diploma thesis at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin
  • 1989-1994: Study of Biology at the Free University of Berlin