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Research Funding
08.02.2019

Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Prize Winner visits Helmholtz Zentrum München

The Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, valued at 45,000 euros, supports international networking. The award winners are invited to conduct their own research projects in Germany. As a 2019 recipient, Prof. Dr. Derek A. Pratt from the University of Ottawa joined Helmholtz Zentrum München in February for five months to carry out research in Dr. Marcus Conrad’s lab.

Prof. Dr. Derek A. Pratt and Dr. Marcus Conrad. © University of Ottawa/Helmholtz Zentrum München

Derek Pratt began his independent academic career in 2005 and since 2010 has been appointed in his hometown of Ottawa, where he heads an internationally acclaimed program in organic and biological chemistry. The focus of his research is the mechanisms and products of free radical reactions - especially the oxidation of fatty acids and its inhibition by antioxidants. "Derek Pratt has made formidable progress in the field of chemistry, and applying these insights in biological contexts such as ferroptosis," says Marcus Conrad, group leader at the Institute for Developmental Genetics of Helmholtz Zentrum München about his guest. "In addition, he holds numerous patents and develops new technologies with industry partners. I expect our complimentary expertise will lead to exciting new developments in this emerging and intriguing field of ferroptosis. 

Research in the Conrad group is mainly concerned with ferroptosis - a newly discovered form of cell death associated with the oxidation of fatty acids. Ferroptosis is involved in numerous disease-promoting processes, but could possibly also have therapeutic benefits - such as in the fight against cancer. Yet, the precise mechanisms of ferroptosis still need to be clarified. Recently, the research team led by Marcus Conrad reported another breakthrough: In the renowned journal 'Cell' they were able to show that the trace element selenium protects certain neuronal cells from cell death during postnatal development. “These new insights as well as work we have already published together have seeded new ideas which we anticipate will lead to continued success in our collaborative work," says Conrad.

The Humboldt Foundation grants about 20 Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Awards annually. Scientists and scholars from abroad, internationally renowned in their field, who completed their doctorates less than 18 years ago are eligible to be nominated. They are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements which will have a seminal influence on their discipline beyond their immediate field of work. Award winners are honoured for their outstanding research record and invited to spend a period of up to one year cooperating on a long-term research project with specialist colleagues at a research institution in Germany. 


As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus, allergies and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,500 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 19 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members. 

Rising life expectancy is causing an increase in age-related, but also sociological and environmental, influences on the genes. The Institute of Developmental Genetics (IDG) examines these changes in genetic material. In the Mouse Genetics group, genetic animal models are developed to investigate various diseases. These models are analyzed in the Disease Modelling research group in order to identify gene functions and cell processes and evaluate the influence of the environment and aging processes. The group focuses on the examination of neurological and psychiatric diseases.

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