award Virologist Petr Chlanda Receives Chica and Heinz Schaller Research Award
22 November 2023
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 has been honoured by the Chica and Heinz Schaller Foundation. The virologist received 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 was presented by virologist Prof. Dr Ralf Bartenschlager, member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, during a ceremony that was also attended by Prof. Dr Frauke Melchior, Rector of Ruperto Carola.
In his tribute, Prof. Dr Hans-Georg Kräusslich, Chairperson of the Schaller Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Council and spokesperson of the Department (Center) of Infectious Diseases, acknowledged the outstanding scientific work of the awardee. With his research group, Dr Chlanda implemented a workflow for cryo-electron microscopy, with which it is possible to examine the structure of numerous viruses at the level of single molecules. In doing so, 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 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 concentrates on how the influenza A virus and the Ebola virus enter the cell. The question of particular interest is how the respective virus changes infected cells to achieve effective replication. In the future, Dr Chlanda also wants to apply cryo-electron tomography 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 2009. While working towards his dissertation, he also used electron microscopy methods. There followed a postdoctoral research position at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, and from 2011 he conducted 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).
Prof. Dr Rohini Kuner, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Chica and Heinz Schaller Foundation, spoke at the start of the award ceremony on 21 November 2023. In his “2023 Schaller Award Lecture”, Dr Chlanda presented his work. He explained the use of cryo-electron microscopy to clarify fundamental questions about the replication strategies of RNA viruses. The ceremony was concluded by Prof. Dr Karoly Nikolich, Deputy Chairperson of the Board. 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.