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1.5 million Euro European Research Prize for Alwin Köhler

Vienna (22nd July 2011) Alwin Köhler from the Department of Medical Biochemistry (at Max F. Perutz Laboratories) of the Medical University of Vienna should now feel doubly rewarded. The 38-year-old, after having received the START Prize for Austrian Early Stage Researchers of 1.2 million Euros in funding, is now also receiving one of the most sought-after Starting Grants from the European Union’s European Research Council which comes with 1.5 million Euros of research funds. For MedUni Vienna’s Vice-Chancellor, Wolfgang Schütz, this is a “strong signal for basic research at our university, however also for the Max F. Perutz Laboratories, a joint venture enterprise between the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna.”

“For a scientist, who is building up his own group, this is an excellent starting position”, says Köhler evidently pleased. “Both prizes are recognition of my publications achieved to date, however they also allow me, at the same time, to implement a visionary idea. I can now also take on research projects which are somewhat less mainstream and are more time intensive. It increases the safety of daring to do something risky.” According to Köhler, the research work is now fully funded for five years. The next stage is the extension and formation of the research study group.

Alwin Köhler is researching “the role of nuclear pores in the regulation of gene expression”. Nuclear pores are giant macromolecular structures in the nuclear membrane which arrange the transport of molecules between the cell’s nucleus and the cytoplasm. However, it has been proven that nuclear pores do not only act as transport channels, but that they effect numerous other processes in the cell’s nucleus. Köhler wants to investigate these processes to find out how nuclear pores regulate the genome’s global architecture and function.

“This research attempts to understand gene regulation in a three-dimensional context, as genes are active in varying degrees depending on in which part of the cell’s nucleus they are located. The nuclear pores can anchor active genes to the nuclear membrane through using adapter molecules and form whole “transcription factories” there. We are performing basic research and are not directly asking ourselves the question ‘why that would be beneficial?’, but I am a doctor, and therefore of course I always want to learn about cellular malfunctions and the basis of diseases.” For the fixing of genes to the nuclear pore, an enzyme (USP22) is necessary which has a proven role in the onset of tumours and another protein (Ataxin-7), which is involved in the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. Köhler says, “There are therefore many possibilities here to forge bridges between basic research and clinical research.”

Vice-Chancellor Schütz says “A strong signal for Vienna as a location of research”
Wolfgang Schütz, Vice-Chancellor of the Medical University of Vienna emphasises the successful cooperation with the University of Vienna in the field of molecular biological research projects. “With the Max F. Perutz Laboratories we have been able to establish an internationally successful research institute in the dynamic field of molecular biological research projects. An important strategy in doing so is the concerted training of early stage researchers. In the last year alone the Perutz Labs were able to bring four ERC Starting Grants to Vienna. That is also a strong signal for basic research at our university.”

About the ERC Award
The ERC was created by the European Union in 2007. It is the first European body which funds "frontier research" projects. During the selection of these projects the only criterion used is the scientific excellence of the researcher and the innovative potential of the research concept. The nationality, the age of the researcher, and the research field do not play any role during selection. The works submitted are assessed by independent scientists. Each year there are only around 200 projects funded throughout Europe.

Biography
Alwin Köhler is Junior Group Leader at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories, a joint venture of the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna. After his degree in Medicine at the University of Würzburg, Köhler wrote his doctoral thesis at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Cell Biology. He then took up a post doctorate post at the Biochemistry Centre in Heidelberg, where he was also awarded the Medical Faculty’s “Young Investigator Award”. Köhler has been researching at the MedUni in Vienna since 2010..

» Max F. Perutz Laboratories
» European Research Council