DFG to Fund Ten New Research Units, Two Clinical Research Units and One Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is establishing ten new Research Units, two new Clinical Research Units and one new Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This decision was made by the DFG Joint Committee at the recommendation of the Senate during the DFG’s annual meeting in Rostock. The new groups will receive a total of approximately €47 million, which includes a 22 percent programme allowance for indirect project costs. Funding is available to Research Units and Clinical Research Units for a maximum of two three-year periods, while Centres for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences can be funded for two four-year periods. In addition to approving the 13 new collaborations, the Committee extended six Research Units and one Clinical Research Unit for a second funding period.

The new Research Units include three in the field of public health, which are intended to strengthen German research in this area and enhance its international visibility. They were preceded by a one-time call approved by the Senate in September 2017, which was designed to provide strategic start-up funding.

Research Units enable researchers to pursue current and pressing issues in their research areas and to take innovative directions in their work. Clinical Research Units are also characterised by the close connection between research and clinical work. Centres for Advanced Studies are specifically tailored to the working methods used in the humanities and social sciences. With today’s decisions, the DFG is now funding 153 Research Units, 11 Clinical Research Units and 13 Centres for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

The 13 new research collaborations
(in alphabetical order by spokesperson’s university)

Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) are rare chronic diseases that can occur when the body produces too many blood cells, resulting in malignant changes to the connective tissue in the bone marrow, known as myelofibrosis. Currently, the only available treatment is stem cell transplantation. The Clinical Research Unit “Untangling and Targeting Mechanisms of Myelofibrosis in Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPN)” aims to achieve a better understanding of these diseases and the underlying mechanisms in order to identify new cellular and molecular therapies. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Tim Henrik Brümmendorf, RWTH Aachen University)

Although climate change means that we need to transition away from fossil fuels as soon as possible, traditional combustion engines will remain the technical standard for a number of decades. As a result, the spark-ignition engine, in particular, needs to be refined to increase its efficiency. The Research Unit “Cyclic Variations in Highly Optimized Spark-Ignition Engines: Experiment and Simulation of a Multi-scale Causal Chain” will address a crucial and in many ways poorly understood aspect, which will also be of significant future relevance to engines powered by gas or novel alternative fuels. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Heinz Pitsch, RWTH Aachen University)

The number of food allergies has increased strongly in most industrialised countries over the last 20 years. Although they sometimes have a dramatic impact on a patient’s quality of life, there is no causal therapy and knowledge about risk and protective factors is also limited. The Clinical Research Unit “Food Allergy and Tolerance (Food@)” aims to better understand the development of food allergies from babyhood onwards. The researchers also aim to develop new, directly applicable strategies for the treatment, prevention and diagnosis of food allergies at different stages of illness. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Margitta Worm, Charité Berlin – FU Berlin and HU Berlin)

What are human abilities? And how can an understanding of them help us to understand genuinely human activities? The newly approved Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences entitled “Human Abilities” will investigate these questions from a philosophical perspective, specifically drawing on a metaphysical, epistemological and action theory approach. By collaborating with other disciplines such as law, psychology, linguistics, education research and political science, the researchers also aim to investigate what role human abilities play in practical contexts. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Dominik Perler, HU Berlin)

The health of refugees currently plays a subordinate role in research. In a diverse society like Germany, this is a missed opportunity to improve the health of the overall population. The Research Unit “Refugee Migration to Germany: A Magnifying Glass for Broader Public Health Challenges (PH-LENS)” aims to identify health inequalities and how they relate to contextual factors and the healthcare system. The group intends to analyse the underlying mechanisms and concepts and propose strategies to reduce health inequalities. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Oliver Razum, University of Bielefeld)

In information technology, data transmission rates are increasing steadily as the demand for fast wireless data communication rapidly grows. To make speeds of 100gigabits per second and higher technically possible, a new approach to communication technology is needed. This topic will be addressed by the Research Unit “Metrology for THz Communications”. The researchers will focus on communication technology for the terahertz frequency range (THz). In the future, this could transmit data at terabits per second, but it presents enormous challenges to current communication technology. Among other objectives, the Research Unit aims to design measurement techniques that help to predict the performance of THz communication in real environments. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Thomas Kürner, TU Braunschweig)

Stroke is the second most common cause of death worldwide and the leading cause of long-term disability in adults. In Germany alone, someone suffers a stroke every two minutes. Yet treatment options are limited and new approaches often fail the practical test. The aim of the Research Unit “ImmunoStroke: From Immune Cells to Stroke Recovery” is to understand the still largely unknown mechanisms and immunological interactions in the chronic phase of brain lesions after a stroke and to set new standards in patient care. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Christoph Kleinschnitz, University of Duisburg-Essen)

The inner mitochondrial membrane, which is covered with dense proteins, has a unique three-dimensional structure. It allows specific protein and lipid environments to be formed, achieving the spatial separation of different protein functions. The Research Unit “Nanoscale Architecture and Heterogeneity of the Mitochondrial Inner Membrane” aims to understand exactly how this works. The scientists hope that this research will make a vital contribution to answering important questions about the mitochondrial ultrastructure, which performs essential functions for the cell. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Stefan Jakobs, University of Göttingen)

The Research Unit “Climate Change and Health in Sub-Saharan Africa” will address the highly topical public health problem of an increasing burden of disease as the result of climatic changes in a particularly at-risk region. The impacts are especially noticeable among rural populations in sub-Saharan Africa, who also have the lowest adaptive capacity. The Research Unit will study the relationships between changes in weather and health impacts, taking into account hydrological, agricultural and economic factors. The aim is to establish models with which to predict future trends. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Rainer Sauerborn, Heidelberg University)

Copper iodide (CuI) is a broadband p-type semiconductor that combines transparency in the visible spectral range with unparalleled hole conductivity. However, in spite of recent progress there remain a number of fundamental challenges, both practical and relating to materials science, before CuI can be used as a multifunctional material in electronics, photovoltaics or optics. The Research Unit “Copper Iodide as Multifunctional Semiconductor” intends to address these problems to make the properties of CuI-based materials usable in applications. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Marius Grundmann, University of Leipzig)

A significant number of people in Germany have difficulty dealing with health information and navigating the healthcare system. There is a direct link between health competency and individual health. Using the example of early childhood allergy prevention, the Research Unit “Health Literacy in Early Childhood Allergy Prevention: Parental Competencies and Public Health Context in a Shifting Evidence Landscape (HELICAP)” aims to identify, among other things, what social and ecological factors are required for competency development and what factors inhibit it. This will require the refinement and establishment of suitable quantification methods for health competencies. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Christian Apfelbacher, University of Magdeburg)

TSPO is a protein with many different functions. Among other things, it plays a key role in the nervous system. This is the focus of the Research Unit “Role of Translocator Protein (18 kDa) (TSPO) as a Diagnostic and Therapeutic Target in the Nervous System”. Specifically, the group will focus for example on the potential of TSPO positron emission tomography (PET) for brain tumours, the importance of TSPO in neurodegenerative processes in the peripheral and central nervous system and in the retina, and the protein’s role in fear and anxiety. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Rainer Rupprecht, University of Regensburg)

Pumps and conduits, hearts and blood vessels: in both engineered and biological systems, pulsed flows are ubiquitous. The pulsed acceleration of fluid often produces poorly understood effects and phenomena, which – for example in the case of interactions between flow and wall – can result in technical problems or lead to cardiovascular disease. The Research Unit “Instabilities, Bifurcations and Migration in Pulsatile Flows” aims to improve our fundamental understanding of pulsed power and flow geometry for flow instabilities, including scenarios involving complex fluids. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Christian Wagner, Saarland University)

The seven research collaborations extended for a second funding period
(in alphabetical order by their spokesperson’s university, with links to project description in GEPRIS, the DFG’s online project database):

FOR “Temperature-Related Stresses as a Unifying Principle in Ancient Extinctions (TERSANE)” (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kiessling, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg) https://gepris.dfg.de/gepris/projekt/269895748

FOR “Cell Plasticity in Colorectal Carcinogenesis” (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Florian R. Greten, Goethe University Frankfurt) https://gepris.dfg.de/gepris/projekt/280163318

FOR “Denitrification in Agricultural Soils: Integrated Control and Modelling at Various Scales (DASIM)” (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Christoph Müller, University of Giessen) https://gepris.dfg.de/gepris/projekt/270261188

KFO “Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis” (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Ansgar W. Lohse, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf) https://gepris.dfg.de/gepris/projekt/278045702

FOR “Assessing and Controlling Dynamic Local Process Conditions in Microreactors via Novel Integrated Microsensors” (Spokesperson: Dr.-Ing. Roland Dittmeyer, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) https://gepris.dfg.de/gepris/projekt/274353615

FOR “Mountain Exile Hypothesis: How Humans Benefited From and Re-shaped African High Altitude Ecosystems during Quaternary Climatic Changes” (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Georg Miehe, University of Marburg) https://gepris.dfg.de/gepris/projekt/270995238

FOR “Resilience” (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Martin Endress, University of Trier) https://gepris.dfg.de/gepris/projekt/313809822