New appointments 2022

In 2022, the Faculty of Medicine appointed the following professors* to the University of Bonn:

Prof. Dr. Simone Dohle
© Universitätsklinikum (UKB)/Katharina Wislsperger

Prof. Dr. Simone Dohle

Professorship (W2) Health and risk communication of primary health care.

Prof. Dr. Simone Dohle has been head of the new working group "Health and Risk Communication in Primary Care" at Bonn University Hospital (UKB) since April 01, 2022. Within the framework of the new professorship at the University of Bonn, the 41-year-old psychologist is investigating the question of how people are motivated to adopt a healthy lifestyle through successful communication and how they can be supported in its implementation. For this purpose, Prof. Dohle wants to establish a research laboratory for health and risk communication at the Institute of Primary Health Care. "The goal of good health and risk communication is often to reach even those who, for example, have not yet considered developing a healthy lifestyle," says Prof. Dohle, who sees vivid graphic representations of risk and benefit as playing a central role. The probability of suffering a heart attack, for example, is at first just a mathematical value - purely statistical information. "Ideally, the risk is communicated in such a way that everyone can understand it and the benefits of a change in diet are obvious. The person concerned can then make an informed decision," emphasizes Prof. Dohle.

"Has always been oriented towards prevention".

What information is needed to motivate people to make positive health behavior changes? How can they then be helped to behave more healthily? "In addition to motivation, the planning aspect is particularly important here. The motivation is there, but what's the next step?" says Prof. Dohle. "Effective self-regulation strategies here help ensure that health-related intentions - such as exercising and eating healthier - are carried out."

In order to be able to answer all these questions, she wants to set up a research laboratory for health and risk communication at the Institute for Primary Health Care. The aim is to develop suitable presentation formats for communicating health risks to family doctors and specialists. Among other things, information materials will be tested for comprehensibility using eye-tracking on the computer. "This provides information about which aspects are overlooked or not understood," says Prof. Dohle. In her experimental research, she is interessted to find out when willingness to take further health-promoting steps increases. E-health, in this case apps on smartphones, can help to record health behavior in a realistic environment and support decisions on a health-conscious lifestyle directly in everyday life.

Beneficial linking of research and practice

The opportunity at UKB to put her research into practice in a way that really helps people motivated Prof. Dohle to accept the call to the Medical Faculty in Bonn. There are many areas, such as prenatal diagnostics, vaccination, organ donation or hereditary diseases, where people need patient-centered information to make an individually appropriate decision. "Patients are individuals each with a different background. This must be taken into account when weighing up the risks and benefits," says Prof. Dohle.

Prof. Dohle would also like to use additional technological options to increase health and risk literacy, such as augmented reality. For this purpose, she wants to continue existing projects with researchers from the University of Newcastle in Australia, for example. She also sees many opportunities for cooperation at the Bonn site, for example in the field of eHealth for the development of health apps. She also uses eHealth in her private life. For example, her running watch records her pulse and distance covered when she jogs. The mother of two daughters aged three and six also enjoys riding her road bike.

Prof. Dohle began her scientific career with a degree in psychology in Würzburg and completed her doctorate on risk perception in Zurich in 2010. From 2011 to 2014, she led the project "The Swiss Nutrition Panel" there, a longitudinal study on physical activity and dietary behavior in the age group 20 to 99. Since 2014, she worked at the University of Cologne, where she led a research group in the field of "Applied Social Psychology and Decision Research" after her habilitation on health behavior.

Prof. Dr. Rayk Behrendt

Professorship (W2) for Nucleic Acid Immunity

Rayk Behrendt took over the W2 professorship for Nucleic Acid Immunity with tenure track as of March 1, 2022. The professorship is associated with the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology of the Medical Faculty Bonn.

His scientific career began in 2000 with a degree in biology at the University of Greifswald. However, already during his studies it led him to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin. Here he also seamlessly completed his doctoral thesis in the field of molecular virology as a collaborative project between the RKI and the Charité. After completing his dissertation, Behrendt moved to the Institute of Immunology at the University of Dresden in 2009.

Since 2017, he has headed his own junior research group there. The focus of his research activities is in particular on the innate immune system and its receptors for the recognition of nucleic acids as potential pathogens.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© privat

Under certain conditions, these can no longer distinguish between foreign and endogenous nucleic acids. This leads to a false activation of the immune system and the triggering of a type-1 interferon-dominated immune response. The result is a systemic inflammatory response and, in extreme cases, the development of autoimmunity. Behrendt's goal is to identify the sources of cell-genic immune-stimulatory nucleic acids to better understand molecular causes of this group of sterile inflammatory diseases and to create novel approaches for therapies.

In Bonn, Behrendt will continue this work, paying particular attention to the role of viral sequences encoded in the genome, which account for almost half of our genetic information. With his scientific and methodological expertise, he will further expand the research focus "Immunosciences and Infection". We wish him every success in his research projects and welcome him to our faculty.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Katharina Wislsperger/UKB

Prof. Dr. Maximilian Billmann

University Professorship for Pharmacogenomics (W1)

Prof. Dr. Maximilian Billmann has been appointed Professor of Pharmacogenomics at the Medical Faculty of the University of Bonn as of February 1, 2022. His research focus is on the development of computational algorithms for the analysis of functional genomics data and their integration with available experimental and clinical omics data in terms of a systems medicine research approach.

In his research program, he intends to predict the interplay of genes and chemical compounds from clinical and experimental genomics, functional genomics, and pharmacogenomics data. This work builds on fundamental machine learning techniques including state-of-the-art deep learning methods. He also plans to develop computational tools for interpreting experimental omics data, which hold promise but also present new challenges as the volume of clinical data continues to grow. His research will help build a bridge between clinically derived data and experimental efforts to enable novel therapeutic interventions in the future.

During his DFG-supported postdoctoral work at the University of Minnesota and the University of Toronto, Billmann developed algorithms to guide the ideal implementation of hundreds of genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 screens, identify and integrate genetic interactions, with the goal of creating a reference map for genetic influences in a human cell. During his doctoral research at Ruprecht Karls University in Heidelberg, he studied how genetic influences change after stimulation of signaling pathways. Previously, he had completed his studies in molecular biotechnology at the TU Dresden and the Ruprecht-Karls-University in Heidelberg.

Billmann and his research group will be based at the Institute of Human Genetics at the University Hospital. There, he will not only have access to the latest technologies for functional genomics analyses, but will also be able to collaborate in a variety of ways with the Institute's research groups working on the genetic basis of diseases.

With the appointment of Prof. Dr. Maximilian Billmann, we were able to attract an excellent bioinformatics and innovative researcher to Bonn and welcome him warmly.

Prof. Dr. Carmen Ruiz de Almodóvar

University Professorship (W3) for Neurovascular Cell Biology

The University of Bonn has once again recruited high-ranking individuals. Prof. Dr. Carmen Ruiz de Almodóvar took up a so-called Schlegel professorship on February 1, 2022, financed by excellence funds. She will open up a new field of research at the University of Bonn and provide important impulses in the life sciences.

Prof. Ruiz_de_Almodóvar, Carmen.jpg
© Barbara Frommann / Uni Bonn

With the Schlegel Professorships, named after the Bonn philologist August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767-1845), the University of Bonn is establishing high-caliber chairs in the course of promoting excellence. The "Schlegel Chairs" are held by the faculties in subjects that belong to the strong research focus areas or the development areas.

"Attracting internationally recognized researchers to enhance our scientific performance is a core element of our excellence strategy," emphasizes Rector Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Michael Hoch. "With the biochemist Carmen Ruiz de Almodóvar and the theologian Martin Keßler, we have once again succeeded in recruiting outstanding personalities to the University of Bonn. I am convinced that they will not only make valuable contributions in their disciplines, but at the same time will excellently develop our faculties and transdisciplinary research areas."

The relationship of the vascular and nervous system

The human brain consumes about 20 percent of the body's oxygen and glucose needs to maintain its highly precise and sophisticated functions. As a result, the organ is heavily laced with blood vessels that reach every corner of the brain and intermingle with all the nerve cell types located there. Carmen Ruiz de Almodóvar, a new Schlegel Professor at the School of Medicine, wants to understand how the vascular and nervous systems interact in different parts of the central nervous system. How does the brain become equipped with vessels during development? What molecular signals do neurons and vessels use to communicate with each other? How does this communication change in pathological conditions such as neurological and neurodegenerative disorders? To answer these questions and more, Ruiz de Almodóvar and her interdisciplinary team are bringing together knowledge and expertise from neuroscience and vascular science.

"The University of Bonn offers me and my research group a unique environment for excellent research and teaching and a great focus on interdisciplinary research in the lifesciences," says Carmen Ruiz de Almodóvar. "I am impressed by the great vision for the future to which I would like to contribute. We look forward to working with scientists and clinicians from different fields to also advance the Transdisciplinary Research Area 'Life and Health'."

"We are very pleased to have recruited Professor Ruiz de Almodóvar to Bonn. With her, we have been able to recruit an excellent researcher who ideally links our main research areas of neuroscience, cardiovascular research and immunology," says Prof. Dr. Bernd Weber, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. "As a result, she will also explore new approaches to understanding and therapies for various diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, at the University Hospital."

Personal details: Biochemist Carmen Ruiz de Almodóvar

Carmen Ruiz de Almodóvar studied Biochemistry at the University of Granada (Spain), where she obtained her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2004. She then moved to Leuven (Belgium) to complete her postdoctoral training at the Flanders Center for Biotechnology (VIB). Prior to her appointment in Bonn, she was a junior group leader at the Biochemistry Center of the University of Heidelberg from 2011 to 2018 and then a professor of vascular dysfunction at the European Center for Angioscience (Mannheim Medical School) of the University of Heidelberg. She has received an ERC Starting Research Grant and is currently a recipient of an ERC Consolidator Grant. Her work has received international recognition through various awards and high-level scientific publications.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Johan Saba / UKom UKB

Prof. Dr. Kathrin Leppek

As of January 10, 2022, Kathrin Leppek, Ph.D. (Dr. rer. nat.), has taken up a W1 junior professorship in immunobiochemistry with tenure track at the Medical Faculty of the University of Bonn.

Research in the field of immunology and immunobiochemistry is of particular importance at the moment. For humans, as for all living beings, it is essential for survival to recognize and eliminate foreign cells and foreign genetic material. For this purpose, nature has developed sophisticated mechanisms, including immunobiological ones. In addition, new technologies are possible with mRNA vaccines as therapeutics, which have great potential in medicine in the future.

This is the main topic of Ms. Leppek's research. As part of her professorship in immunobiochemistry, Ms. Leppek will investigate the molecular and structural mechanisms of protein synthesis in the innate immune response and help to better understand the principles of action of this system. With the new insights into the basic functioning of these mechanisms, the consequences of immune system dysfunction should also be better understood. Specifically, her group will focus on how the regulation of gene expression in the innate immune response is carried out directly by the ribosome, the protein synthesis machinery. Her lab is investigating a fundamentally new mode of gene regulation whereby ribosomal RNA (rRNA) regions exposed on the outer layer of the ribosome bind to selected transcripts to enable mRNA- and species-specific translation. Her lab does this by combining innovative RNA biochemistry and RNA-based technology development with model systems ranging from yeast to macrophages.

Ms. Leppek became interested in the biosciences at an early age, worked in various renowned laboratories and looked beyond the symbolic "edge of her nose" several times in the course of her interdisciplinary career. After completing her bachelor's degree in biology, specializing in molecular biology, Ms. Leppek earned her master's degree in molecular biosciences at the University of Heidelberg with highest honors.
For the PhD phase, she moved to the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg. There, she investigated the role of Roquin proteins in CDE-mediated mRNA degradation in macrophages, which is most prominently important for the limited production of the cytokine TNFa, a question in the field of adaptive immune response, and was awarded a Ph.D. in RNA-, Immunology and Cancer Molecular Biology with top grades in 2014. She received two awards for the best doctoral thesis in 2014 from the Faculty of Natural Sciences in Heidelberg (Ruprecht-Karls Prize) and the Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (GBM; Karl-Lohmann Prize).

Ms. Leppek also gained international experience. Most recently, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, CA, USA, in RNA and ribosome research and developmental biology. Here she characterized at the molecular, structural, and genome-wide levels the interaction of 5'-UTR mRNA elements and ribosomes that confer translational specificity in mouse embryonic development. For this work, she received the 2021 Scaringe Postdoctoral Fellow Award from the RNA Society. Most recently, Ms. Leppek worked on mRNA vaccine optimization with two teams at Stanford and Pfizer to systematically improve mRNA structures, stability, and translation for therapeutic purposes.

Ms. Leppek has already published her research results in numerous publications in highly recognized journals, including Cell, the Nature journal group, Nucleic Acid Research and EMBO Reports.

Now, at the Medical Faculty Bonn, Ms. Leppek wants to develop new concepts on the role of ribosomes in the control of gene expression in the innate immune response and thus make an important contribution to immunobiochemistry, immunology and other important biomedical research areas. The appointment of Ms. Leppek provides additional support to the Bonn site of the SFB TRR 273 "Nucleic Acid Immunity" and, conversely, offers the successful young scientist an excellent working environment.

We look forward to working with Prof. Leppek and wish her all the best for her start in Bonn and her future!

Prof. Dr. Shadi Albarqouni

University Professorship (W2) for Computational Medical Imaging Research

Prof. Dr. Shadi Albarqouni has been appointed Professor of Computational Medical Imaging Research at the Medical Faculty of the University of Bonn as of January 1, 2022. Since 2020, Albarqouni has been working as an AI junior research group leader at Helmholtz AI, Munich. His research focuses on the development of AI models in medicine, interpretable deep learning, robustness, uncertainty quantification, and federated learning.  One focus of his research is the development of innovative Deep-Federated Learning algorithms that can distill and share knowledge from AI clients, e.g. hospitals, in a robust and privacy-compliant way. He is also very interested in translational topics, especially in the area of startups for innovative medical solutions with limited resources.

Albarqouni.jpg
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Albarqouni earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from IU Gaza, Palestine, in 2005 and 2010, respectively. Before receiving his summa cum laude PhD in computer science in 2017, he worked as a Senior Research Scientist & Team Lead at CAMP and led the Medical Image Analysis (MedIA) at the Technical University of Munich. Together with his team, he investigated the typical challenges of medical data, such as heterogeneity, strong class inequality, small amounts of annotated data, variability between or within scanners, and inconsistencies between or within observers. Two years later, Albarqouni was awarded the prestigious P.R.I.M.E. fellowship for a year, during which he gained international experience at both the Department of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering (D-ITET) at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and the Department of Computing at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom.

Albarqouni has published more than 100 publications (citations > 4100, h-index: 21) in the areas of medical imaging computing, computer vision, and machine learning. Albarqouni actively serves the research community as a reviewer, session chair, division chair, program committee member, organizing committee member, and program co-chair at international conferences such as MICCAI, MIDL, and ISBI.  Due to his outstanding achievements, Albarqouni was elected as a member of the European Lab for Learning and Intelligent Systems (ELLIS) and the Arab-German Young Academy (AGYA). Recently, he served as program co-chair at MIDL'22 in Switzerland, organizing committee member at ISBI'22 in India and MICCAI'24 in Morocco.
If you are interested in working with Prof. Dr. Albarqouni, please contact him via his email address: shadi.albarqouni@ukbonn.de. You can find more projects here https://albarqouni.github.io/
With Professor Albarqouni, we have succeeded in attracting a truly outstanding young and internationally renowned scientist in the field of image analytics to Bonn, who will significantly strengthen us in the field of computational medicine at the interface of medicine, mathematics and computer science. We are very pleased about the appointment and wish him a good start in Bonn.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Astrid Eckert

Prof. Dr. Ilona Grunwald

University Professorship (W3) for Physiology

Prof. Dr. Ilona Grunwald has been appointed Professor of Physiology and Head of the Institute of Physiology II at the Faculty of Medicine as of January 1, 2022.

Prof. Grunwald had been working at the Technical University of Munich since 2017, where she held the professorship for Neuronal Control of Metabolism. Previously, she conducted research as an independent group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology in Martinsried near Munich. The main focus of her research is to understand how nervous systems enable humans and animals to adapt to the constant changes in their environment in the short and long term, thereby ensuring their survival and the survival of the next generation.

For her research, she mainly uses flies (Drosophila melanogaster) as a model organism. In this, she investigates basic genetic, synaptic and neuronal circuit mechanisms that can also be transferred to other organisms. One focus of her work is on how physiological states such as hunger or reproductive state alter the perception and neuronal processing of sensory impressions such as odors and tastes.

Prof. Grunwald received her diploma in biology from the Georg-August University of Göttingen in 1999. She subsequently conducted research as part of the graduate program at the renowned European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg and successfully completed her doctorate at the University of Heidelberg in 2002. Longer stays abroad during her studies and as a postdoc took her to the University of California in San Diego and Los Angeles, among other places.

She has received various awards for her work, such as the Otto Hahn Medal of the Max Planck Society, the Career Development Award of the Human Frontiers Science Program, the EMBO Young Investigator Award and the Dr. Heinrich Baur Award. She has also been awarded an Emmy Noether Group Leader Research Fellowship and an ERC Starting Grant. Since 2021, she has been a Henriette Heart Scout of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

With Professor Grunwald, we have been able to attract an excellent scientist to Bonn, who complements our research focus in the neurosciences in an outstanding way. We wish her all the best for her start in Bonn and welcome her warmly to the Medical Faculty.

Prof. Dr. Stefanie Poll

Junior Professor (W1) for Circuit Biology of CNS Neoplasia

Stefanie Poll took up the professorship of Circuit Biology of CNS Neoplasia with tenure track at the Institute of Experimental Epileptology and Cognitive Research at the turn of the year 2021/22.

The number of diseases of the central nervous system (CNS) has increased dramatically in recent decades. These diseases are often caused by disturbances in the network of neuronal cells. The investigation of these cellular networks and their changes is called circuit biology and is a focus of the neurosciences in Bonn, e.g. in the framework of the Collaborative Research Center 1089. In particular, neurodegenerative diseases caused by network dysfunction, such as Alzheimer's disease, are increasingly becoming the focus of current research.

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© Kurda / DZNE

However, brain tumor cells also interact with the surrounding healthy neuronal tissue. Since this interaction seems to have a significant impact on tumor formation (neoplasia) and development, its study is also gaining scientific interest.

Stefanie Poll is a proven specialist in the study of neurobiological network processes. Since completing her studies in molecular biology at the Westphalian University of Applied Sciences in 2011, she has dedicated herself to the study of neuronal networks. During her PhD at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Bonn, she focused in particular on cellular changes in the nervous system caused by Alzheimer's disease and their effect on learning and memory. Since completing her dissertation in 2017, she has continued her work on this at the DZNE. She uses state-of-the-art imaging methods such as 2-photon STED and multi-photon microscopy. As part of her work, she also maintains a close cooperation with the Institute of Interdisciplinary Neuroscience in Bordeaux, France, and has already been on site herself several times for research stays with the cooperation partner.

In the context of her professorship, Stefanie Poll wants to expand her focus to other diseases of the central nervous system and also contribute her expertise in the study of brain tumor formations. We are pleased to welcome her to our faculty and wish her every success in her work.

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