From bone metastases to water supply

July 26, 2011

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is establishing eight new Research Units, two Clinical Research Units and two Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies. This follows a decision made by the DFG's Joint Committee at its July meeting in Bonn. The aim of the research networks is to offer the scientists involved the opportunity to devote their time to current and urgent questions in their disciplines and to establish innovative research directions.

As with all DFG Research Units, the new institutions will work across disciplines and sites. All Clinical Research Units bring together the clinical, applied research and basic research fields. And through its Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies, the DFG supports outstanding studies in important research fields in the humanities and social sciences.

The wide variety in the disciplinary spectrum is matched by the diversity of research fields covered by the research groups: the thematic arc ranges from the study of malignant bone diseases, through testing of innovative models for water research, up to the establishment of a synthesis technology for use in materials science. Other topics include elite education in the German education system or with dynamic growth societies.

In the next three years the eight new Research Units will receive approximately 19.2 million euros, bringing the total number of DFG-funded Research Units to 190. The total amount of funding for the two new Clinical Research Units for the first four-year funding phase is approximately 5.1 million euros. Overall the DFG currently funds 32 Clinical Research Units.

The funding period of a Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies is set at eight years. In a first four-year funding phase the two new research groups will be funded with approximately six million euros. Since the programme's inception in 2008, the DFG has approved seven such units.

The new units in detail (alphabetically by host university):

Research Units

Hydrogen bond forming liquids are of fundamental importance to biological systems, but also for miniaturised engineering components and materials. But our knowledge of the effects of nano-porous materials and restricted environments on liquids and compounds of different compositions is patchy. The new Research Unit "Hydrogen-bond Forming Liquids in the Presence of Internal Boundary Surfaces of Differing Hydroaffinity" combines various methods and approaches to the topic in order to analyse the interaction of structure, dynamics and phase behaviour of the liquids.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Michael Vogel, Darmstadt University of Technology)

How do metabolism and the molecular interaction between bones, tissue and metastases change when bone metastases of a primary tumour develop? This question, which has equally pressing relevance both clinically and biomedically, is the focus of the new Research Unit "SKELMET - Mesenchymal and Osteogenic Signalling Pathways in Malignant Bone Diseases". The intention of the project is to study the whole process, in order to improve early diagnosis and targeted treatment of metastases in the human skeleton - a frequently occurring complication in tumour diseases such as breast and prostate cancer.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Lorenz C. Hofbauer, University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus Dresden)

Collaboration between chemistry, process engineering and materials research: The establishment of a synthesis technology in Germany is the long-term goal of the new Research Unit "Chemistry and Technology of Ammonothermal Synthesis of Nitrides". In the medium-term the researchers' task is to create technologically interesting new nitrides - chemical compounds of nitrogen with an additional, less electronegative element - and related compounds. They intend to demonstrate the potential of a technique in which "old" synthesis methods can be used to produce "new"materials.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Eberhard Schlücker, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Relative clauses are of central importance to grammatical theory. They display a variety of properties which have long been the subject of investigation in linguistics - and which in all previous theories appear to be contradictory. For example, in substantial areas the structure and typology of relative clauses are still unclear. This is the topic addressed by the Research Unit "Relative Clauses". It plans to investigate them within a theoretically oriented grammatical research framework. The work is also intended to draw conclusions about general principles of clause and structure formation in the area of noun phrase semantics.
(Spokesperson: Professor Thomas E. Zimmermann, University of Frankfurt)

Analysing the dynamic regulation of cell-to-cell contacts - this is the task of the Research Unit "Functional Dynamics of Cell Contacts in Cellular Assemblies and Migratory Cells". To achieve this, scientists will combine approaches from cell biology, developmental biology and biophysics with the aim of a better understanding of processes involved in the structure of tissue. One example of the questions they are concerned with is which mechanisms underlie the form and function of cell contacts in cell migration. In addition, they are trying to discover the molecular mechanisms which support the biomechanical behaviour in cell contacts. Finally, the group looks to identify completely unknown factors which act on the processes and thereby influence the cell contacts.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Jörg Großhans, University of Göttingen)

Catchwords such as "elite and excellence" feature strongly in the social discourse around the German education system. Up to now, however, the topic of "elite and education" has not been studied largely in the educational and social sciences. The Research Unit "Mechanisms of Elite Education in the German Education System" now plans to analyse the processes of social construction and creation of excellence in key educational institutions and at different educational sites. In a very broad approach the researchers want to devote their attention to the whole range of educational institutions, from nursery school to the university. Their aim is to work out empirically the importance of distinction and coherence formation both for those receiving the education as well as for the education providers.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Heinz-Hermann Krüger, University of Halle-Wittenberg)

The so-called "Von Willebrand factor" is a key protein in blood clotting in the human body. Any disturbance of its functioning results in blood clotting disorders. The Research Unit "Shear Flow Regulation of Haemostasis - Bridging the Gap Between Nanomechanics and Clinical Presentation" aims to gain a deeper understanding of the structure and function of the Von Willebrand factor. To this end the group is basing their approach on cooperation between medical professionals and biophysicists, nanoscientists and physiologists working in experimental and theoretical areas. Such a combined effort should allow the regulation processes to be explained in detail. In the long-term this could also have benefits for the diagnosis and treatment of congenital blood clotting disorders, acute thromboses or strokes.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Reinhard Schneppenheim, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf)

"From Catchments as Organised Systems to Models Based on Dynamic Functional Units", or CAOS for short, is the name a new German-Luxembourgian Research Unit, which is tackling fundamental questions of the water supply in collaboration with geoscientists, soil scientists, hydrologists and atmosphere researchers. To achieve this they want to develop new hydrological models and test out approaches with the aim of bridging the gap between exploratory studies in surface and underground water systems and modelling work. A related result is expected to be the development of improved forecasting systems for processes involved in the supply of water, resources and energy.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Erwin Zehe, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)

Clinical Research Units

Stress-related diseases are threatening to become a new epidemic in today's society. In these diseases the adrenal glands play a crucial role: The adrenal glands produce steroids and substances such as adrenalin, which in turn are involved in fundamental reactions in the metabolism, blood circulation, neurological or immune systems. In spite of this, little is known about the molecular mechanisms which control the fine tuning between the tissue of the adrenal glands and the surrounding cells. The goal of the Clinical Research Unit "Microenvironment of the Adrenal in Health and Disease" is therefore to develop a fundamental understanding of the function of the organ. This is to be achieved by analysing the cellular environment of the adrenal and its interaction with the adrenal tissue. In the long term, this could result in therapeutic applications.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Stefan R. Bornstein, University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus Dresden)

Tumour biology and metabolism research are the focus of the Clinical Research Unit "Tumour Metabolism as a Modulator of Immune Response and Tumour Progression". The aim is to study and further clarify, within an interdisciplinary collaboration, the multi-layered regulation processes found in cancers which so far have only been understood at a rudimentary level. The researchers hope to identify target structures which can be used for the treatment of cancers.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Peter Oefner, University of Regensburg)

Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies

The meaning and effect of the image is one of the central issues in the history of art. This is the topic that the Humanities Centre "History of the Image and Aesthetics of Evidence" will tackle, in an innovative way. The researchers' approach is to conceive of the image as both a representation of reality and an independently acting presence. It is only by doing so that the central function of images can be adequately described. Their aim is to illustrate the various historical and systematic forms in which image contents are mediated. The researchers therefore plan to develop a more complex idea of the image, which can incorporate the original power of the visual form, but which at the same time also respects the linguistic, cultural, social and political embedding of images.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Klaus Krüger, Prof. Peter Geimer, Free University of Berlin)

Modern societies can be understood as dynamic growth societies. Their relative stability is based on rising economic and technical efficiency and growing material wealth. At the present time however, a change can be detected. What would the consequences be if rising growth and wealth collapsed and instead, economic and technical growth triggered crises? The sociology-based Humanities Centre "Land Acquisition, Acceleration, Activation. Dynamics and (De-)Stabilisation of Modern Growth Societies" will study borders and problems of legitimation. The inter-relations between dynamic self-stabilisation and the legitimation principles of modern societies are to be analysed in a new way.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Klaus Dörre, Prof. Stephan Lessenich, Prof. Hartmut Rosa, University of Jena)
Further Information

Additional information on DFG Research Units, Clinical Research Units and Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies can be found at:

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

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