Press Release No. 40 | September 22, 2023

DFG to Fund Eight New Research Units

Topics range from the study of tolerance to transient sieves to the epigenetics of bladder cancer / in total approximately €35.5 million for the first funding period

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is establishing eight new Research Units. This was decided by the DFG Joint Committee on the recommendation of the Senate. The new Research Units will receive total funding of approximately €35.5 million, including a 22-percent programme allowance for indirect project costs. In addition to these eight newly created Research Units, it was decided to extent three Research Units and a Centre for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences for a second funding period. One of the newly established Research Units is being funded as part of D-A-CH cooperation with the Swiss National Fund (SNF).

Research Units enable researchers to pursue current and pressing issues within their research areas, and to establish innovative directions in relation to their work. They are funded for up to eight years. In total, the DFG is currently funding 190 Research Units, 12 Clinical Research Units and 19 Centres for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences. Clinical Research Units are also characterised by the close connection between research and clinical work, while Centres for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences are specifically tailored to forms of work in the humanities and social sciences.

The new research networks in detail
(in alphabetical order of the spokespersons’ HEIs):

The formation of a tumour involves bodily tissues altering their form, alternating between hard and liquid states, for example. Cells accordingly exert forces and are simultaneously influenced by forces. The mechanical-physical processes that are behind this is being investigated by the Research Unit “Multi-scale MR elastography in cancer to explore the mechanical niche of tumour formation and metastasis and achieve improved tumour diagnostics”. How do tumours and metastases develop? What makes them resistant to therapy? These are the questions that the team is pursuing by means of magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) – a new clinical procedure that can be used to record the mechanical properties of bodily tissues. The objective is to enable better tumour diagnosis. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Ingolf Sack, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin)

Tiny liquid films consisting of oil and water are relevant to a variety of industrial applications, such as the energy-efficient use of heat pumps or refrigeration systems. Finding out more about these kinds of flows is the objective of the Research Unit “Oil-refrigerant multiphase flows in columns with moving boundaries – novel microscopic and macroscopic approaches to experimentation, modelling and simulation”. This involves the researchers bridging the gap between fluid mechanics and thermodynamics and combining high-resolution imaging experiments with modern simulations. One of their objectives is to develop new models that can be used to represent the thermal and physical properties of liquid mixtures. They are moreover working on new calculation approaches in relation to oil-refrigerant multiphase flows. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr.-Ing. Markus Richter, Chemnitz University of Technology))

The Research Unit “Transient sieves” is concerned with separating substances that are present in a liquid – either in a dissolved or “suspended” state. Their objective is to compile the fundamentals for a new concept of material separation. The special feature of this new procedure is that transient, in other words “temporary” pores, are used for sieving. This means that the pores of a transient sieve change their properties as the substance passes through. Such separation processes can have many advantages over conventional processes, including improved power consumption. This can be useful for various applications in the future, for example when it comes to filtering antibiotic residues from waste water. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Steffen Hardt, TU Darmstadt)

How do cells assemble into tissues and keep them intact? This is what the Research Unit “Deciphering the role of primary ciliary dynamics in tissue organisation and function” would like to determine. The researchers are focusing their attention on the primary cilia – cell components that protrude from the surface of cells and perceive and transmit signals. They play a key role in the development and organisation of tissues in a healthy and diseased state. The Research Unit is combining specialists from cell and developmental biology, biophysics and biochemistry as well as medicine to find out more about how they work. They will jointly investigate the cilia in different cell types using various methods and models. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Jay Gopalakrishnan, HHU Düsseldorf)

As people age, clones of mutated blood cells may grow – a process that can be associated with the consequences of serious disease, such as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or a pathological proliferation of blood cells, as is the case in leukaemia. What exactly are the underlying biological processes? This is the topic for investigation by the Research Unit “Clonal haematopoiesis: pathological mechanisms and clinical consequences in the heart and blood”. Researchers from basic research and clinics want to jointly understand how exactly the process works and how it is related to different diseases. The objective is to be able to use their new findings for therapeutic applications. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Michael Rieger, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main)

Enzymes accelerate chemical reactions within organisms – and this catalytic ability means they are also interesting for use in the production of new substances, such as medicines. Procedures using enzymes have a number of advantages, including that they often enable chemical conversions that would otherwise only be possible at considerably greater effort. New potentials in enzymatic catalysis is what the Research Unit “Exploiting the potential of S-adenosylmethionine-dependent enzyme chemistry” is seeking to realise. This involves concentrating on a specific group of enzymes – those that only function with the “auxiliary molecule” S-adenosylmethionine. How does this group of enzymes operate in biological systems? How do the catalytic mechanisms work and how can they be exploited? These are questions that this Research Unit wants to answer. It is being funded as part of D-A-CH cooperation with the Swiss National Fund (SNF). (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Jennifer Andexer, University of Freiburg)

More than 30,000 people in Germany develop bladder cancer every year. Albeit the biological mechanisms underlying this are still largely unknown. One thing is certain: it is particular epigenetic changes that are associated with tumour formation – i.e. alterations in gene activity due to environmental influences. How exactly these mutations influence the development of bladder tumours and the progression of the disease is what the Research Unit “UcarE – Urothelial carcinoma epigenetics” is seeking to discover. The researchers are among other things creating a biobank in which they will collect 3D cell cultures of tumours, and data relating to their molecular and genetic analysis. This is to serve as the basis for developing therapies that are personalised in relation to bladder cancer patients. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Ian Frew, University of Freiburg)

Tolerance is considered an important value in society, yet there are many concepts behind this term. The Research Unit “The difficulty and possibility of tolerance: the multiple challenges of our concept and practice of tolerance” wants to examine tolerance using the rejection-respect model established in social psychology. This makes it possible, among other things, to measure (in)tolerance towards other social groups, religions and cultures and to reveal what can lead to an increase in tolerance. The team is to put the model to the test and further develop, revise or even replace it based on their new findings. The objective is to develop a robust, interdisciplinary framework for our understanding of tolerance in pluralistic societies. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Bernd Simon, Kiel University)

The research networks extended for a second funding period
(in alphabetical order of the spokespersons’ HEIs and with references to the project descriptions in the DFG’s online database GEPRIS):

Further information

Media contact:

  • DFG Press and Public Relations
    Tel. +49 228 885-2109

Further information is also available from the network spokespersons.

Contact at DFG Head Office:

Links to DFG Research Units: