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Helmholtz Munich | Oliver Scholz

Pioneers of Future Medical Research

Outstanding scientists from all over the world come together at Helmholtz Munich's Pioneer Campus. They bring technologies and ideas that are ground-breaking - and thus open up entirely new perspectives for medical research.

Outstanding scientists from all over the world come together at Helmholtz Munich's Pioneer Campus. They bring technologies and ideas that are ground-breaking - and thus open up entirely new perspectives for medical research.

The labs are what the researchers are looking forward to the most. When the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus is inaugurated, this ultramodern research building in Munich Neuherberg will play the leading role: high-tech workplaces where scientists work with the latest methods - and develop ideas with which they can give unimagined momentum to medical research. Data specialists and biologists work here, as do physicists and physicians, chemists, and computer scientists. Laboratories and offices are just a few steps apart, for long distances not to slow down innovation.

The fact that there are various meeting areas for scientists to informally exchange ideas is just as much a part of the Pioneer Campus concept as the modern, flexibly equipped laboratory space. The rationale behind it: researchers from the Pioneer Campus will find the necessary environment to rapidly transform their ideas into medical innovations via synergies with scientists from Helmholtz Munich, as well as national and international cooperation partners. Innovations are known to emerge rapidly at the interfaces of expertise and scientific fields. In this sense, the scientific breadth and interdisciplinarity around the Pioneer Campus are key drivers for its success.

The first research groups are already conducting their research at the virtual Pioneer Campus for five years, and with the completion of the spectacular building in 2023, they will ultimately tap into synergies under one roof.

"With the Pioneer Campus, we have the opportunity to attract the best international talents to Munich. Our pioneer scientists naturally bridge across various disciplines, for instance, biomedicine and artificial intelligence, for their ground-breaking innovations."
Prof. Matthias Tschöp, CEO of Helmholtz Munich and Founding Director of Pioneer Campus

Fly-by our new building during construction

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The Bavarian diamond – a characteristic symbol that shapes the new building’s outline

200 researchers will find excellent working conditions in the new building. Their focus areas are each headed by a renowned Helmholtz Munich Head of Department to provide scientific direction: Biomedicine with Prof Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla, Bioengineering with Prof Vasilis Ntziachristos, Biomedical AI with Prof Fabian Theis. There are only a few institutions worldwide, offering comparable opportunities for specifically younger researchers. "We have already been able to attract outstanding people from renowned universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, and the EMBL-EBI in Cambridge, UK," says Dr Thomas Schwarz-Romond, administrative director of the Pioneer Campus. In addition to early independence and resources at the Pioneer Campus, Munich is very attractive because of its outstanding ecosystem: In the fields of bioengineering, stem cell research, and artificial intelligence in biomedicine, Munich is one of the world's leading locations; many research institutions, universities, and companies cluster R&D activities here. Such critical mass acts like a magnet for scientists from all over the world. Excellent minds from more than 40 nations are already working at the Pioneer Campus - and the fact that the floor plan of the new building is shaped like the Bavarian diamond is not a coincidence but a confident reference to internationality and simultaneous identification with the research location of Munich, as well as close ties to decision-makers at the federal and Bavarian levels who together enable such an outstanding research infrastructure. At Helmholtz Munich, the Pioneer Campus acts as an accelerator for scientists distinguished by novel technologies, often not yet present or just emerging in Germany or Europe and with expected potential for growth. This is where the theme of interaction and mutual inspiration comes into play: when exchanging with other scientists, novel ideas and often concrete projects emerge that can be tackled more quickly by joining forces.

Our Researchers @ Pioneer Campus

Fabian Theis

“I sign up 100 % to the Helmholtz PioneerCampus concept – attracting the most promising, technology-literate, and science-driven talents; at the same time providing relevant resources, creating an intellectually stimulating environment, and offering sufficient independence/room for their ideas to realize their very own vision.”

to Fabian's page
Fabian Theis eingefärbt

Prof. Dr. Fabian Theis

Director of the Computational Health Center

Vasilis Ntziachristos

"Our research at Helmholtz Munich is driven by our interest to provide solutions that address critical unmet medical need and positively impact healthcare and the well-being of society."

Porträt Vasilis Ntziachristos, tuerkis Version 2

Prof. Dr. Vasilis Ntziachristos

Director of the Bioengineering Center

Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla

"Lifelong health is critically dependent on adaptation and resilience. By combining our forefront knowledge on epigenetic principles regulating cell identity, we can now reprogram cell fate and use stem cells to improve resilience and generate healthy cells in the dish. The Biomedicine opportunities and interdisciplinary research at the HPC and within Helmholtz Munich make such an ambitious vision possible."

to Maria-Elena's Page
Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla Portrait with Notebook

Prof. Dr. Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla

Director of the Stem Cell Center

Janna Nawroth

“In my lab, we study the defense mechanisms of the lung that protect against pollutants and pathogens, and also the failure of this protection that leads to asthma and other lung diseases.”

to Janna's Lab
Porträt Janna Nawroth

Dr. Janna Nawroth

Principal Investigator

Boyan Bonev

"The major focus of my lab is to understand how the brain is built at the molecular level and what goes wrong in neuronal disorders such as autism and Alzheimer’s disease."

to Boyan 's Lab
Boyan Bonev

Dr. Boyan Bonev

Principal Investigator

Jian Cui

"We develop high-sensitivity optical techniques for probing and understanding molecular and cellular processes.”

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Portrait Jian Cui

Dr. Jian Cui

Principal Investigator

Lara Urban

"Our research is based on the fact that the health of animals, plants, other organisms, and of our environment is inextricably linked. We use genomics, AI, and technological advances to better understand these independencies in a global setting."

To Lara´s Lab
Lara Urban

Dr. Lara Urban

Principal Investigator

Marion Jasnin

“We use cryo-electron tomography to reveal the molecular organization of actin networks inside intact cells. Actin filaments are essential components of the cell skeleton, enabling cells to change shape, move or invade surrounding tissue.”

to Marion´s Lab
Portrait Marion Jasnin

Dr. Marion Jasnin

Principal Investigator

Na Cai

“My group uses population-scale genetic data to investigate the nature of Major Depressive Disorder, with the goal of improving its diagnostics and treatment.”

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Na Cai Portrait Helmholtz Munich

Dr. Na Cai

Principal Investigator

Oliver Bruns

“My research is dedicated to the development of excellent techniques for biomedical imaging.”

to Oliver´s Lab
Bruns, Oliver

Prof. Dr. Oliver Bruns

Principal Investigator

Francesco Paolo Casale

“We leverage AI and large biobank data to advance our understanding of human disease and drive the development of transformative solutions.”

to Francesco´s Lab
Porträt Paolo Casale

Dr. Francesco Paolo Casale

Principal Investigator

Bastian Rieck

“My team and I develop new multi-scale AI methods for analysing high-dimensional biomedical data sets.”

to Bastian´s Lab
Portrait Bastian Rieck_landscape

Dr. Bastian Rieck

Principal Investigator

Celia P. Martinez-Jimenez

“My group investigates the shared molecular mechanism between ageing and chronic diseases with the goal of decreasing the incidence of age-related diseases and extend healthy life.”

to Celia´s Lab
Martinez Celia

Dr. Celia P. Martinez-Jimenez

Principal Investigator

Matthias Meier

“We engineer microsystem technologies for rebuilding cellular and organ function in vitro. Our aim is to replace animal experiments for metabolic disease research.”

to Matthias´s Lab

Prof. Dr. Matthias Meier

Principal Investigator

Nicolas Battich

“The focus of my lab is to understand the molecular dynamics driving cellular decisions during differentiation of stem cells and progression of complex diseases such as cancer.”

to Nico´s Lab
Portrait - Nicolas Battich

Dr. Nicolas Battich

Principal Investigator

Two examples of research excellence from around the world

Organ on a Chip - Organoid Technology

Janna Nawroth Mikroskop
Helmholtz Munich / Almut Barden

One example of this is Janna Nawroth: She worked for many years in the USA both at universities and in biotechs, pursuing organ-on-chip systems. Using (often human) stem cells - including that of affected patients - can be thoroughly analyzed under lab conditions. As a kind of ‘personalized twin’, diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be studied more precisely and quickly. And specific treatments can be developed, even for an individual patient. "Human organoid technologies are currently experiencing a worldwide boom and will transform the medicine of the future," says Thomas Schwarz-Romond - and it is by no means limited to lung research. "New approaches, inspired particularly through Bioengineering, artificial intelligence, and automation promise competitive advantages through intellectual property and know-how - and thus also future jobs and societal prosperity," he says.

The development of the human brain

Boyan Bonev
Helmholtz Munich | ©Carolin Jacklin

Another example of a pioneer researcher is Boyan Bonev, originally from Bulgaria and through his scientific path a genuine 'global citizen': the bioinformatician and developmental biologist has been using highly complex single-cell analyses to decipher the interplay of genetic and epigenetic factors in the development of the human brain. This makes it possible to discover genetic as well as environmental factors that contribute to very different neuronal diseases, including autism, Parkinson's disease, or depression. To do this, he and his team are decoding the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms during cortical brain development. This work promises to deliver new diagnostic biomarkers and stem cell-based therapeutics.

A leap of faith for talent

For the Pioneer Campus, applicants whose ideas are still at an early stage are also deliberately selected. The courage to take risks - i.e. to accept that some promising approaches may not work after all - is part of the founding principle of the Pioneer Campus. Calls for proposals are aimed particularly at the younger generation. Innovative postdocs, for example, are given the opportunity to become independent principal investigators comparably early – is a leap of faith that does not exist in this form at many other institutions.

The Pioneer Campus has long since proven its function as a springboard for the most talented scientists: The majority of researchers are extremely successful in attracting internationally competitive third-party funding, such as ERC grants. In addition, three first-generation Pioneers have already been appointed to professorships both in Germany and abroad. In addition, there are not only concrete ideas but also initial funding for spin-offs of technologies developed at the Pioneer Campus.

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The Pioneer Campus thus brings together what future science and innovation need most: the chance to work in a concentrated manner - and an environment of support and encouragement. A start-up atmosphere will be cultivated here with low hierarchies and open doors. And, especially important for medical research: with short distances between offices and laboratories. "It feels like walking over from the living area to an experimental kitchen," says Thomas Schwarz-Romond and smiles.

Latest update: July 2023.

Listen to the Pioneer Campus - Podcast Series

Episode 1: “Obesity is a brain disease.”

A conversation with Matthias Tschöp

Mathias Tschöp is a physician, a scientist, and the CEO of Helmholtz Munich. This podcast is produced by Thiago Carvalho / audio by Marco Antonio/366.