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23 December 1999

New Long-Term Collaborative Research Project (SFB) in Molecular Developmental Neurobiology at the University of Heidelberg

SFB 488 to start work in January 2000 – Rector Prof. Dr. Jürgen Siebke "highly gratified": "Further consolidation of the neurosciences in Heidelberg" – 7.7 million marks from the German Research Council (DFG)

The relevant committees of the German Research Council have approved the establishment of a new Long-Term Collaborative Research Project (SFB) at the University of Heidelberg. The new SFB 488, which commences work in January 2000, will be investigating the central molecular and cellular factors involved in the development of the nervous system. Rector Professor Dr. Jürgen Siebke expressed his gratification that, following the foundation of the Interdisciplinary Centre for the Neurosciences (IZN), the new Long-Term Project represents a further consolidation of neuroscientific endeavour at the University. In the next 3 years the German Research Council will be funding the Project with a total of some 7.7 million marks.

Not only for neuroscientists but also for laypersons the nervous system is probably the most fascinating organic system in the human body. How language, thought and feelings originate, how we see and hear, how we might find ways of healing disorders of the nervous system like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease are all questions of pre-eminent interest. Among the features specific to the nervous system are the billions of specialised crossover points between the nerve cells known as synapses.

Like the instruments of a symphony orchestra

As we can readily imagine, synapses are not random formations but precision structures. To enable them to take shape representatives of a vast number of molecular families inside and outside the nerve cells have to "cue in" at exactly the right intervals like the instruments in a symphony orchestra. So far, we have no definitive knowledge either of the complete array of instruments or the full orchestral score. The new Long-Term Research Project will be investigating such things as the way the overall "shape" of the brain is established, how precursor cells (the preliminary stages of the nerve cells themselves and the glial cells so important for their survival) develop and "migrate", how nerve fibres find their way around and how groups of nerve cells "gel" into a functioning ensemble.

Better knowledge of the development of the nervous system enhances our understanding of the functions of the mature nervous system. Numerous processes inherent in brain development are replicated during repair processes taking place in the brain and the spinal cord. Hence it is safe to predict that analysis of the development of the nervous system will produce knowledge of use in the healing of diseases.

The new Project assembles research groups from the Universities of Heidelberg and Jerusalem, the German Cancer Research Centre, the Max Planck Institute of Medical Research and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Some of these groups were already involved in the highly successful Heidelberg neurobiology Project 317 which has just come to a close after running for 15 years. The new SFB hopes to take up where the last Project left off. "We're confident that we can do just that," said Project spokesman Prof. Dr. Klaus Unsicker.

Please address any inquiries to
Prof. Dr. Klaus Unsicker
Dept. of Neuroanatomy, University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/548227, fax: 545604

or: Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

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