Research projects in NanoBioMed

In the numerous third-party funded projects in the focus area “NanoBioMed – Life and Matter”, scientists at the UdS are conducting research on important questions in the fields of medicine, physics, biology, and chemistry.

Below is a selection of current NanoBioMed research projects funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the European Commission or the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.


German Research Foundation (DFG)

The NanoBioMed focus area is home to one Collaborative Research Center (CRC) and two CRC/Transregios (CRC/TR), in which several universities work closely together. In addition, the German Research Foundation funds two research groups and an Emmy Noether junior research group in the focus area.



Collaborative Research Centers (CRCs)

CRC/TRR 152: Maintenance of Body Homeostasis by Transient Receptor Potential Channel Modules
  • Subject classification: Medicine
  • Project management: Prof. Dr. Ulrich Boehm (Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology)
  • Funding period: 2014-2026
  • Speaker University: LMU München

Transient receptor potential (TRP) channels represent a diverse protein family with salient roles as versatile cellular sensors and effectors. TRP proteins control an exceptionally broad spectrum of homeostatic physiological functions, illustrated by more than 20 hereditary human diseases caused by mutations in 11 Trp genes. Most TRP channel-related human disorders impinge on development, metabolism and other homeostatic functions. However, a detailed understanding of the underlying pathophysiology is missing. There is accumulating evidence to link TRP channels to even more human diseases beyond TRP channelopathies, and accordingly, TRP proteins have been identified as appealing therapeutic targets.

The research of the CRC will help overcome a merely genetic classification of TRP channels by means of physiologically relevant functional criteria, thus leading to a functional re-definition of what is presently called the “TRP channel family”. Such fundamental insight will furthermore open up new avenues for specific, tailored treatment options for patients suffering from diseases inflicted by dysfunctional TRP proteins.

Homepage of CRC/TRR 152

CRC/TRR 219: Mechanisms of Cardiovascular Complications in Chronic Kidney Disease
  • Subject classification: Medicine, Biology
  • Project management: Prof. Dr. Danilo Fliser (Internal medicine)
  • Funding period: 2018-2025
  • Speaker University: RWTH Aachen

The aim of this Transregional Collaborative Research Center TRR219 is to analyze in experimental and clinical studies the multi-factorial aspects of CKD-related cardiovascular morbidity and mortality caused by alterations in the circulation and the myocardium.

In addition to examining pathological mechanisms affecting the cardiovascular system in CKD at the basic science level, we will also study the translational aspects by analyzing novel interventions and diagnostic tests in the context of CKD-related cardiovascular pathology.

Homepage of CRC/TRR 219

CRC 1027: Physical modeling of non-equilibrium processes in biological systems
  • Subject classification: physics, biology, chemistry, medicine
  • Speaker: Prof. Dr. Heiko Rieger (Statistical physics)
  • Funding period: 2013-2024

CRC 1027 is an interdisciplinary research team with the goal of gaining a quantitative understanding of the physical mechanisms at work in the self-assembly of biological matter into complex structures. This self-assembly enables biological systems to carry out dynamic functions such as cell migration and polarization, cell-cell adhesion and synaptic transmission, biofilm formation, and tissue growth. The project analyzes the ways in which large biological molecules and cells physically interact, exert forces, move one another, and self-organize into complex functional patterns at all levels, from proteins, lipid membranes, and cells to biofilms and tissues.

Homepage of CRC 1027


Other Projects funded by the DFG

FOR 2688: Instabilities, Bifurcations and Migration in Pulsating Flow
  • Research Unit
  • Subject classification: Thermal engineering / Process engineering
  • Speaker: Prof. Dr. Christian Wagner (Experimentalphysik)
  • Funding period: seit 2019

The way blood flows through the vessels plays a major role in the development of cardiovascular diseases, such as thrombosis and arteriosclerosis. However, the physical principles of blood flow are poorly understood. Blood is more heterogeneous than water is and is driven by a pump, the heart, it pulsates. Previous experiments on flow behavior, however, have generally been based on water moving uniformly. An interdisciplinary team from physics, engineering and medicine from several universities want to close this knowledge gap. Together, they are working on this goal in the newly established Research Unit "Instabilities, Bifurcations and Migration in Pulsating Flow".

Homepage of the Research Unit

Emmy Noether Independent Junior Research Group: Hybrid Functionals for Hybrid Materials
  • Emmy Noether Independent Junior Research Group
  • Subject classification: Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Project leader: Hilke Bahmann (Physikalische und Theoretische Chemie)
  • Funding period: 2019-2024

Computer-aided simulation of single molecules, also called molecular modeling, is used in basic research and increasingly also in industry to find new materials, develop more efficient catalysts or improve medical agents. Often microscopic effects at the subatomic level are crucial for macroscopic properties, so a reliable and accurate description of the electron structure is an important prerequisite for the studies mentioned above. Electron structure can be calculated by various quantum chemical methods, with density functional theory being the most popular. Two currently important limitations of the available density functionals are constant, system-dependent parameters and an insufficient description of strong correlation effects between electrons.

To improve the predictive power of density functional theory for model systems of heterogeneous catalysis and hybrid materials, this project will develop several methods that adapt to the local electron structure and incorporate additional physical quantities to explicitly describe strong correlation. A second important aspect is the efficient implementation in a renowned quantum chemical program package, so that the new methods can be directly applied to chemically and physically relevant systems and are available to a broad user community.

European Commission

The following research projects in the NanoBioMed priority are funded by the European Commission and coordinated by Saarland University. This also includes the various grants from the European Research Council (ERC).


European Research Council (ERCs)

ATTACK – Analysis of the T cell’s Tactical Arsenal for Cancer Killing
  • Horizon 2020 – ERC Synergy Grant
  • Project leader: Prof. Dr. Jens Rettig (Cellular neurophysiology)
  • Funding period: 2021-2027

Within the framework of this ERC Synergy Grant, an international team is researching the latest approaches in the fight against cancer cells. The focus is on so-called supramolecular attack particles (SMAPs), which are used by the body’s own defense cells (T cells) against tumor cells.

For this, the consortium will analyze the so-called supramolecular attack particles (SMAPs), which are part of the T cells’ arsenal in the fight against tumor cells. The participating scientists in Homburg will analyze the exact release of SMAPs by the T-cells, scientists in Sienna will investigate the production of SMAPs, while the British scientists in Oxford will investigate the mode of action of the particles. And finally, the French research group in Toulouse will analyze how the tumor cells react to the attack by SMAPs. The consortium envisions that SMAPs will be freeze-dried and shipped around the world, solving problems related to current immunotherapies, leading to global health impact.

Homepage of ATTACK

MemDense – Cellular control of membrane protein crowding
  • Horizon 2020 – ERC Consolidator Grant
  • Project leader: Prof. Dr. Robert Ernst (Medical Biochemistry & Molecular Biology)
  • Funding period: 2020-2025

The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is a complex organelle in terms of both structure and function. It is the largest membrane-bound intracellular compartment, spanning a network of tubules and sheets. The ER plays a critical role in the synthesis of secretory and membrane proteins, their folding, modification, and maturation. At the same time the ER is a major hub for the biosynthesis and distribution of phospholipids and sterols. Dysfunction results in ER stress and a failure to fold soluble and membranes proteins, thereby activating the unfolded protein response (UPR). The UPR is critical to re-establishing homeostasis. Until now, the UPR has been studied with a focus on the role of soluble proteins, whereas the more abundant membrane proteins have been largely overlooked. All that is changing with the EU-funded MemDense project, which studies the role of the density of ER membrane proteins and their misfolding in adaptive responses.

Homepage of MemDense

Other projects funded by the EU

EVIDENCE – Erythrocytes properties and viability in dependence of flow and extra-cellular environment
  • Horizon 2020 – Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions – Innovative Training Network
  • Project leader: Prof. Dr. Lars Kaestner (Cell Biology)
  • Funding period: 2020–2023

A consortium of 16 partners representing academic research centres, diagnostic labs, blood supply centres, and small industries has teamed up to develop novel diagnostic and therapeutic tools for red blood cells (RBC) research.

The objective of EVIDENCE is the exploration of the properties and behaviour of RBCs under flow conditions and in vivo to understand pathophysiology and to design novel diagnostic devices. Theoretical models will help to understand these RBC properties and will enable the transfer of the gained knowledge into diagnostic devises in general and into the development of a spleen-on-the-chip in particular. Furthermore, we aim to understand the effect of the flow in bioreactors, allowing the efficient production of RBCs in vitro with the goal to produce RBC for transfusion.

Homepage of EVIDENCE

SafePolyMed – Improve Safety in Polymedication by Managing Drug-Drug-Gene Interactions
  • Horizon Europe – Health
  • Project lead: Prof. Thorsten Lehr (Clinical pharmacy)
  • Funding period: 2022–2025

Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) are a major burden to our healthcare and economic systems. In Europe alone, approximately 197,000 annual deaths can be attributed to ADRs. The regular use of five or more medications at the same time (polypharmacy), the coexistence of two or more long-term medical conditions or diseases (comorbidity), and genetic diversity have a significant effect on drug efficacy and consequently, raise the incidence and severity of ADRs.

Aiming to increase overall drug treatment safety, the international team of the EU research project SafePolyMed seeks to provide physicians and pharmacists with innovative tools to define, assess and manage drug interactions, especially the so-called drug-drug-gene interactions (DDGIs).

Overall, the envisioned tools will not only empower healthcare providers but will also educate patients and citizens on how to adequately and safely manage their drug treatments.

Homepage of SafePolyMed

TALENTS – Training AlliancE for Novel Microbiome-Modulating TherapieS
  • Horizon Europe – Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA)
  • Funding period: 2023–2027

TALENTS is an international doctoral program of Saarland University, sponsored by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND-Action of the European Commission. It brings together 15 doctoral candidates (DC’s) to work for their PhD degree at the interface of pharmacy, chemistry, biology, medicine and bioinformatics in an interdisciplinary training alliance.

The overarching aim is to investigate and exploit the human microbiota to fight diseases. Saarland University is named by this federal state of Germany, located near to France and Luxemburg. The TALENTS graduate school bridges the main campus in Saarland’s capital Saarbrücken with the medical campus and University Hospital in the city of Homburg.

Homepage of TALENTS

Further projects

German Federal Ministry of Education and Research

The following research projects in the NanoBioMed focus area are currently funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Explomare - Exploration and exploitation of the biosynthetic potential of marine actinobacteria

EXPLOMARE is engaged in the research and development of novel processes for the extraction of valuable natural substances.

EXPLOMARE is concerned with the research and development of novel processes for gainIn an interdisciplinary approach, a unique marine value chain is to be established. This will enable the production of novel active ingredients with customized cell factories of the genus Streptomyces. The bacteria also originate from the sea. They are therefore adapted to high salinity levels, which are presumably crucial for the effective functioning of marine natural product synthesis pathways. Natural product gene clusters from the sea are often poorly expressed in conventional terrestrial microorganisms. Synthetic biology and metabolic engineering will be used to progressively establish microbial cell factories. The establishment of biotechnological processes based on the cellular minifactories will then later use marine algae as a raw material. Seaweed is considered to be one of the most promising renewable raw materials worldwide - it can be grown directly in the sea without fertilizers, pesticides or competition with valuable arable land, where it can grow to a length of up to 70 meters due to its rapid growth and produce higher biomass yields than corn or cereals, for example.

The working groups of Christoph Wittmann (Institute for Systems Biotechnology) and Andriy Luzhetskyy (Pharmaceutical Biotechnology) at Saar University are pooling their expertise for the innovative development. Further cooperation partners in the network are the Saarland start-up company MyBiotech from Überherrn and the Center for Biotechnology at Bielefeld University.

EXTRA - Bioproduction of Novel Extremolytes

Extremolytes are small molecules with which microorganisms effectively protect themselves from extreme environmental factors such as heat, cold, drought or radiation. The substances are synthesized by the microbes and accumulated inside, where they form a protective film around proteins and other sensitive cell components and stabilize them. This enables the microorganisms to live in extreme environments - in Antarctica, in geysers or salt lakes. The discovery that extremolytes also stabilize proteins, membranes and tissues in humans by creating a protective layer of water around them has opened up a wealth of promising applications for these substances from nature in the fields of cosmetics and medicine. The prominent extremolyte ectoine can now be found in eye drops, inhalation sprays, nose drops and creams, among other things.

Unfortunately, most extremolytes can only be produced inadequately from nature so far, since the natural producers need extreme conditions for growth, thereby also forming only minute amounts of the desired substances and are therefore unsuitable for economic production. EXTRA therefore aims at the efficient synthesis of extremolytes in novel customized cell factories and their further development towards economic production.

To this end, the working groups of Christoph Wittmann from the Institute for Systems Biotechnology at Saar University and Rolf Müller from the Helmholtz Center for Pharmaceutical Sciences on campus are once again pooling their expertise in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology. Further cooperation partners in the network are the Saarland start-up company MyBiotech from Überherrn, which will research suitable processes for the purification of the expensive products, and the company bitop from Dortmund, world market leader for the production of Ectoin, which will develop subsequent manufacturing processes.

HiFi - Hochstabiler, breitbandiger Quantenfrequenzkonverter mit zweistufiger Konversion

To connect quantum nodes to quantum networks, the frequencies or wavelengths of individual photons must be specifically adapted to the standard of the communication channel (quantum frequency conversion). In the HiFi project, quantum frequency converters and the underlying basic technologies are being systematically developed.

For this purpose, expertise from the fields of quantum technology, optics, laser, fiber, automation, assembly, interconnection and production technology is brought together. In addition to the AG Quantenoptik at Saarland University, five other partners are involved in the project. It is led by Menlo Systems GmbH.

Homepage of HiFi

Myxo4PUFA-2 – Nachhaltige Produktion von Omega-3-Fettsäuren auf Basis myxobakterieller Gene

Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in our diet. They promote brain development, especially in newborns, improve blood circulation and protect the joints. Recent studies confirm that docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) and eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA) in particular have a health-promoting effect. Due to the low contents, conventional extraction processes based on fish oils are not suitable for obtaining n-3 DPA or ETA. In collaboration with the Saarland biotechnology company MyBiotech and the team of Rolf Müller (Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland), the project aims to develop a novel production process for rare omega-3 fatty acids such as DPA and ETA. Newly discovered biochemical synthesis pathways should enable the efficient production of these complex molecules in microorganisms. The project is working on the development of customized cell factories in the non-conventional yeast Yarrowia lipolytica for the targeted synthesis of the new products, as well as on the development of fermentation processes for their production.

Homepage of Myxo4PUFA-2

NiQ - Rauschen in Quantenalgorithmen

The project will develop quantum algorithms that benefit from noise. A conceptual framework will be developed in which quantum algorithms are understood as a self-organizing process with an interplay of noise and coherent quantum dynamics.

The project is led by Saarland University. In addition, the Freie Universität Berlin, the Forschungszentrum Jülich, the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, Qruise GmbH, and IBM Research Europe as an associated partner are also conducting research here.

Homepage of NiQ

QPIC-1 - Photonisch-Integrierter Quantencomputer

Compared to classical computers, quantum computers can perform complex calculations much more efficiently. Thanks to this speed advantage, problems can become computable that are considered unsolvable with classical computers. For practical applications, however, systems are needed that can work with a significantly larger number of quantum bits (qubits) than previously possible.

In QPIC-1, a novel platform for a quantum computer will be developed using single light particles (photons) as qubits. This requires both novel sources to generate quantum light and integrated photonic circuits in which the information processing takes place. The work and developments in QPIC-1 are intended to make quantum computers practical for real applications.

The project is coordinated by the Technical University of Munich. In addition to Saarland University, six other partners are working in the joint project.

Homepage of QPIC-1

QSync - Sichere Kommunikation durch gekoppelte Quantensysteme

In QSync, quantum technology will be used to demonstrate a long-range communication platform with synchronized quantum nodes. Here, two systems (single ions and color centers in diamond) are coupled in a laid fiber optic network and corresponding optical interfaces for signal transmission are explored.

The project results enable the stable coupling of different communication nodes in the existing fiber optic network. This brings the practical application of secure communication based on quantum physics principles within reach.

Homepage of QSync

QR.X - Sichere faserbasierte Quantenkommunikation

Quantum communication makes a decisive contribution to the secure transmission of data. Over long distances, however, current quantum communication is reaching its limits. Quantum repeaters are needed to overcome these limits. Novel quantum repeaters will be implemented in QR.X and tested under real conditions. The project makes an essential contribution to the development of quantum communication infrastructures for the tap-proof transmission of data. A total of 25 institutions from Germany are working together on this project, including universities, research institutes and companies.

The project is coordinated by Saarland University (Christoph Becher).

Homepage of QR.X

QuFabLab - Quantum Technology FabLabs: Make, Learn, Share

QuFabLabs creates an education and collaboration ecosystem in the field of quantum sensors. Competence building, development of specialists and interdisciplinary collaboration for sensor systems of the second quantum generation in mechanical and plant engineering are in the foreground.

The joint project is led by the Hochschule Ruhr West/Institut für Informatik Bottrop. In addition to Saarland University, the Hochschule Niederrhein/Competence Center FAST, the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems, and w.i.r.i. e.V. are also involved in project implementation.

Homepage of QuFabLab

VI-Screen – Kontaktloses Screening von virusbedingten Atemwegserkrankungen
  • Project leader at Saarland University Hospital (UKS): Prof. Dr. Michael Zemlin (General Pediatrics and Neonatology)
  • Project leader at Saarland University (UdS): Prof. Dr. Daniel J. Strauss (Systemic Neuroscience and Neurotechnology)
  • Funding period:  2021–2023

The aim of the "VI-Screen" consortium is to develop a monitoring system that can diagnose infectious respiratory diseases in children, adolescents, and adults using non-contact measurement methods via optical and acoustic sensors. The project is funded under the BMBF's “Civil Security” funding line. The project aims to create the technical conditions to prevent the entry of potentially pandemic pathogens into clinics and other public buildings.

For this purpose, measuring stations will be set up in two clinics of the UKS (General Pediatrics and Neonatology, Internal Medicine V) to collect data and sample material from patients with classic symptoms of respiratory diseases and to test to what extent a clear mapping of the non-contact measurement data to the results of laboratory diagnostic procedures is possible.

The collaborative partners (UdS, UKS and Technische Universität Berlin) will develop the sensor platforms and data processing, collect and analyse biosamples, and scientifically address data protection and ethical aspects of data collection, processing, and storage.

VOMBAT - Miniaturisierte Verschränkunsquelle im Telekombereich auf Basis von AlGaAs-Bragg-Reflexions-Wellenleitern

The aim of the project "Miniaturized entangled photon source in the telecom sector based on AlGaAs Bragg reflection waveguides (VOMBAT)" is to develop a source for entangled photon pairs in which the required pump source and the generation of the entangled photon pairs are integrated in one chip. For the generation of photons with frequencies corresponding to low-loss telecommunication, a photon pair source based on the material system AlGaAs will be designed and fabricated. For the distribution of the photon pairs to the different receivers or frequencies, it is investigated how this can be done as compactly as possible in an integrated photonic circuit in which the chip-integrated photon pair source is embedded. The technological requirements for later commercial exploitation are also being investigated. The overall system will be tested in an existing fiber optic link.

The project is coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications. In addition to Saarland University, two other partners are working on the joint project.

Homepage of VOMBAT

Other funding

ANTIPOLE - Antivirals for preemptive therapy of BK polyomavirus infection in transplant recipients and interference with in-host virus evolution

Reactivation of a latent viral infection poses a significant risk to immunocompromised patients in transplantation medicine. BK polyomavirus (BKPyV) is a poorly understood virus that causes nephropathy or hemorrhagic cystitis in a significant number of renal or allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients. Currently, there is no vaccine and drugs are urgently needed for preventive treatment to prevent organ damage. This interdisciplinary project addresses the major challenges that have hindered drug development against BKPyV. The project team synergistically combines specific expertise in small DNA virus immunology and cell biology, cutting-edge genomics, and translational drug discovery to identify drug candidates from unique compound libraries that disrupt key viral processes. The team has developed a novel BKPyV replication assay for drug screening and will use complex human 3D culture models for preclinical validation, such as BKPyV-infected organoids of the proximal renal tubules, organotypic 3D cultures with integrated immune cells, and organ-on-a-chip models. To gain molecular insights into the evolution of drug resistance and develop counterstrategies, researchers will use innovative BKPyV-specific next-generation sequencing technologies to monitor viral genetic adaptation and evolution in the host. With these combined approaches, the team hopes to advance both a straightforward translational approach to drug repurposing in transplant patients and the development of entirely new classes of drugs against BKPyV.