Award Chica and Heinz Schaller Research Award: Funding for Outstanding Biomedical Research

Press Release No. 121/2023
20 November 2023

Prize-winner Dr Petr Chlanda receives research funding worth 100,000 euros for his work on the structural analysis of viral infections

For his innovative scientific projects, particularly the further development of cryo-electron microscopy in connection with structural analyses of viral infections, Dr Petr Chlanda is to be honoured by the Chica and Heinz Schaller Foundation. The virologist is to receive an award, named after its donors, for biomedical research, endowed with research funding worth 100,000 euros. Dr Chlanda is a research group leader at the Medical Faculty Heidelberg of Heidelberg University and does research in the virology unit of the Department (Center) of Infectious Diseases at Heidelberg University Hospital. The award will be presented during a ceremony with Prof. Dr Frauke Melchior, Rector of Ruperto Carola, that is to take place on 21 November 2023.

Dr. Petr Chlanda Portrait (Hochformat)

With his research group, Dr Chlanda implemented a workflow for cryro-electron microscopy, with which it is possible to examine the structure of numerous viruses at the level of single molecules. In so doing, Petr Chlanda and his team were among the first scientists to have succeeded in rendering visible molecular details of the structure and replication of SARS-CoV-2 directly inside the infected cells – here specifically with the aid of high-resolution electron tomography, with which it is possible to ‘look inside’ a cell and examine large complexes in the cellular context. In his current studies, the virologist also concentrates on the structures and mechanisms of influenza A viruses and Ebola viruses. The question of particular interest is how the respective virus changes infected cells to achieve effective proliferation. In future, the scientists also want to investigate viral infections of the respiratory tract with the aid of lung tissue and organoids.

Petr Chlanda studied biochemistry at Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic) and earned his doctorate at Heidelberg University in 2010. While working towards his dissertation, he also used electron microscopy methods in particular. There followed a postdoctoral research position at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, and from 2011 he did research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda (USA). In 2017 he returned to Heidelberg and, since then, has headed a Chica and Heinz Schaller Foundation-funded research group on the membrane biology of viral infections. The group is located at the BioQuant Center at Ruperto Carola and also has a base at the Center for Integrative Infectious Disease Research of Heidelberg University Hospital. Dr Chlanda is a founding member of the Cryo-Electron Microscopy Network of Heidelberg University (HDcryoNet).

The Foundation established by scientists Prof. Dr Chica Schaller and Prof. Dr Heinz Schaller has funded biomedical basic research in Heidelberg since 2000. That involves, in particular, setting up and financing the “Schaller Research Groups”, which operate at Heidelberg University and the German Cancer Research Center. The main funding instruments also include the research award named after the two donors, which has been awarded annually to outstanding young Heidelberg scientists since 2005.

The first speaker at the prize award ceremony on 21 November 2023 will be Prof. Dr Rohini Kuner, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Chica and Heinz Schaller Foundation. Prof. Dr Hans-Georg Kräusslich will pay tribute to the prize-winner in his function as Chairperson of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Council and spokesperson of the Department (Center) for Infectious Diseases. Dr Chlanda will give the “2023 Schaller Award Lecture” on the topic of his research projects. Prof. Dr Ralf Bartenschlager, member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, will then present the academic honour. The final speaker will be Deputy Board Chair Prof. Dr Karoly Nikolich. The award ceremony for the Chica and Heinz Schaller Research Award for biomedical research is to take place in the BioQuant Center, Im Neuenheimer Feld 267, seminar room 041, starting at 5.30 pm.