Press releases

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Goethe University PR & Communication Department 

Theodor-W.-Adorno Platz 1
60323 Frankfurt


Dec 9 2015

Approval for Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) on selective autophagy led by Frankfurt scientists/Cooperation with the University Medical Center Mainz

Better understanding of cell renewal and cellular quality control

FRANKFURT. The German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft/DFG) has approved 11 M € for the next four years for establishing a CRC on selective autophagy under the lead of Goethe University. Autophagy literally means "self-eating" and refers to a sophisticated system in which cellular waste is specifically detected and removed. It contributes to regular cell renewal, secures quality control and protects against diseases. Defects in this pathway can promote cancer development and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson, and contribute to infectious diseases and inflammatory reactions. The objective of the CRC is a better understanding of autophagy at the molecular and cellular level. In future, the researchers hope to be able to specifically target autophagy for improving the therapy of diverse diseases. 

Professor Birgitta Wolff, President of the University, congratulated the researchers: “Well done to Ivan Dikic and his team for achieving this important milestone. The research planned within the CRC forms a promising basis for the development of new and more effective therapies. We are particularly pleased that we will be joining forces with Mainz University, the Institute of Molecular Biology in Mainz and the Georg-Speyer-Haus in the CRC – a further sign of the vitality of our regional partnerships.”

Autophagy is conserved from simple organisms such as yeast up to complex ones like humans. Typical targets for autophagy are harmful or superfluous proteins - it degrades for example aggregated proteins, which can otherwise lead to severe damage and cell death, as observed in numerous neurodegenerative diseases. Even entire cell organelles and invading pathogens such as bacteria or viruses can be eliminated via this pathway. The building blocks generated through this degradation process are recycled, which is why autophagy also functions as a survival strategy in times of low energy supply.

Autophagy is a highly complex and precisely regulated process which requires a concerted action by numerous players: The target substrate needs to be specifically recognized and surrounded by membranes to form what is known as the autophagosome. Autophagosomes fuse with lysosomes, which are cell organelles filled with digestive enzymes, finally enabling the breakdown of all cargo into the individual building blocks.

“The enormous significance of autophagy for the pathophysiology of diseases has only been recognized in the past decade. As a result, research activity in this field has increased rapidly”, explains Professor Ivan Dikic, CRC Speaker and Director of the Institute of Biochemistry II at Goethe University. “By strategic recruitments over the past five years, we have succeeded in developing Frankfurt into a centre for autophagy research. Now we are in a position to address many of the unanswered questions: What triggers autophagy? How does the cell select targets for autophagy? How does this pathway crosstalk to other cellular mechanisms and how is it involved in the pathogenesis of human diseases?”

Meanwhile it is known that the role of autophagy strongly depends on the cellular context: In healthy tissues, it prevents the emergence of cancer cells. At the same time, however, cancer cells capitalize on autophagy to overcome bottlenecks in nutrient supply, which occur as a result of rapid tumour growth. The researchers are now analysing this complex interaction. So far, little is known about the interplay of autophagy with other mechanisms, such as cellular trafficking (endocytosis), programmed cell death (apoptosis) and the ubiquitination system, which marks proteins for degradation in the proteasome.

Within the newly established CRC, researchers will study autophagy at the level of molecules, cells and model organisms. It is the first large-scale collaborative project in this field in Germany and allows scientists in Frankfurt and Mainz to position themselves in an internationally highly competitive field. A broad line-up of disciplines is needed to tackle the open questions, and therefore, within the CRC, structural biologists have teamed up with biochemists, cell biologists and clinicians. New insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying autophagy will be directly transferred to model systems for human diseases.

At Goethe University, the three faculties of Biological Sciences, Biochemistry, Chemistry and Pharmacy, and Medicine, and the cross-disciplinary Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences (BMLS) are participating in the CRC. Partners outside the University are the Institute for Pathobiochemistry at the University Medical Center of Johannes Gutenberg UniversityMainz (Prof. Dr. Christian Behl is Vice Speaker of the CRC), the Georg-Speyer-Haus in Frankfurt and the Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH in Mainz.


Further information: Prof. Ivan Dikic, Institute of Biochemistry II, University Hospital Frankfurt, Tel.: (069) 6301-5652,


Goethe University is a research-oriented university in the European financial centre Frankfurt founded in 1914 with purely private funds by liberally-oriented Frankfurt citizens. It is dedicated to research and education under the motto "Science for Society" and to this day continues to function as a "citizens’ university". Many of the early benefactors were Jewish. Over the past 100 years, Goethe University has done pioneering work in the social and sociological sciences, chemistry, quantum physics, brain research and labour law. It gained a unique level of autonomy on 1 January 2008 by returning to its historic roots as a privately funded university.  Today, it is among the top ten in external funding and among the top three largest universities in Germany, with three clusters of excellence in medicine, life sciences and the humanities.


Publisher: The President of Goethe University

Editor: Dr. Anne Hardy, Press Officer, Tel: +49(0)69 798-12498, Fax +49(0)69 798-761 12531,



Dec 7 2015

Children suffering from a cancer of the nervous system could benefit from a potential new treatment, thanks to an international team led by researchers at the University of Kent and at the Institute of Medical Virology at the Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

New cancer treatment hope for children

Children suffering from a cancer of the nervous system could benefit from a potential new treatment, thanks to an international team led by researchers at the University of Kent and at the Institute of Medical Virology at the Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

The team, including Professor Martin Michaelis and Dr Mark Wass at the University’s School of Biosciences, found that flubendazole - a drug used against parasitic worms - has potential for the treatment of neuroblastoma, a cancer of the peripheral nervous system which affects children.

Tests on 461 cancer cell lines revealed that neuroblastoma - the most common solid cancer occurring outside the brain in children and a major cause of death during infancy – was highly sensitive to flubendazole.

Flubendazole was also found to reduce the viability of five primary neuroblastoma samples in concentrations thought to be achievable in humans. It inhibited vessel formation and neuroblastoma tumour growth in a tumour model in fertilised chicken eggs.

Acquired resistance to various anti-cancer drugs is a major problem in high-risk neuroblastoma. The researchers found that 119 cell lines from a panel of 140 neuroblastoma cell lines with acquired resistance to various anti-cancer drugs were sensitive to flubendazole in low concentrations.

The research team concluded that flubendazole represents a viable potential treatment option for neuroblastoma. It will now be subject to further research.

The research, entitled Identification of flubendazole as potential anti-neuroblastoma compound in a large cell line screen, was conducted by Martin Michaelis, Professor of Molecular Medicine, and Mark Wass, Senior Lecturer in Computational Biology, at the University of Kent; Professor Jindrich Cinatl and nine colleagues from the Goethe-University and eight from other German institutions. It was published in Scientific Reports. See here:



Dec 3 2015

Renowned researcher speaks at the invitation of the Cornelia Goethe Center about “Anatomies of Violence” and “Neoliberalism” from a post-colonial feminist perspective

Chandra Talpade Mohanty accepts Angela Davis Guest Professorship

FRANKFURT. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, one of the most important post-colonial researchers and activists of our time, will take over the Angela Davis Guest Professorship for International Gender and Diversity Studies in December. The feminist, who has held a chair at Syracuse University in New York since 2004, has taken a critical look since the 1980s at the western, typically colonial perspective on “women in the ‘Third World’”. She now ascribes even greater importance to transnational feminist solidarity and anti-globalization analysis. Together with neoliberalism, this will be the topic of her two public lectures at Goethe University on the 12th and 16th of December.

In her inaugural public lecture entitled “Wars, Walls, Borders: Anatomies of Violence and Postcolonial Feminist Critique”, Mohanty will deal with the ‘anatomy of violence’ in relation to wars, walls and borders from a post-colonial feminist standpoint. The lecture will take place at 6.00 p.m. on Saturday, 12th of December in the “Casino” (Room 1.801) on the Westend Campus. At 6.00 p.m. on Wednesday, 16th of December, the guest professor will hold a public lecture on the topic of neoliberalism, emancipatory knowledge and pedagogies of resistance with the title: “Neoliberal Projects, Insurgent Knowledges, and Pedagogies of Dissent”. This lecture will also take place in the “Casino” (Room 1.801), Westend Campus. During her one-week stay, Chandra Talpade Mohanty will also engage in a dialogue with students and researchers in the framework of in-house workshops at the university.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty was called to the chair this year following Angela Davis herself, after whom the professorship is named. Its launch in December 2013 with Angela Davis, American civil rights campaigner and critical social science researcher, caused a national and international sensation. The Cornelia Goethe Center for Women’s and Gender Studies created the professorship at the beginning of the 2013/2014 winter semester. Its purpose is to foster international and interdisciplinary cooperation in the area of gender and diversity and it is filled every two years with an internationally renowned researcher in the field of women’s and gender studies.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty regards herself as an anti-racist feminist whose roots are found in the tradition of socialist feminists and the feminist theories of the “Global South”. Mohanty’s research interests lie in transnational feminist theory, post-colonial studies, analysis of imperialism and racism, anti-racist pedagogy and anti-capitalist critique.  In her writings she analyses the interlaced power relationship between colonialism, “race”, class and gender. For Mohanty, de-colonization, that is, the critical examination of colonial inheritance at all levels, is a key scientific and at the same time political issue.

Born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1955, Mohanty grew up in India. After a period in Nigeria, where she taught English at a secondary school, she moved to the USA. In 1974 she completed her Bachelor degree in English Studies at the University of Delhi. A Masters degree in English Studies at the University of Delhi (1976) and in English/Education at the University of Illinois (1980) followed. She obtained her doctorate at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 1987. Chandra Mohanty was Professor of Women’s Studies at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, from 1992. Since 2004 she is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Sociology and the Cultural Foundations of Education and since 2015 Dean of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Syracuse University, New York. The honorary doctorates of Lund University and the College of Wooster (Ohio) are just two of the numerous accolades awarded to her.


Further information: Prof. Dr. Kira Kosnick, Culture and Migration, Institute of Sociology, Westend Campus, Tel. 069/798- 36582,; Dr. Marianne Schmidbaur, Scientific Coordinator, Cornelia Goethe Center, Westend Campus, Phone +49(0)69/798-35103,




Dec 3 2015

Psychological study by Goethe University on how referees experience aggression in amateur football

“Fear whistles along with us”

FRANKFURT. “Fear whistles along with us”, “Violence every damned Sunday”, “The ball is round, the hate is huge” – that’s how these and similar headlines read with regard to conditions on the field in amateur football (soccer) in Germany. A psychological study by Goethe University, based on a survey amongst over 900 referees, gets to the bottom of such aggression and its causes.

In the framework of his master’s thesis at the Chair of General Psychology II, Adrian Sigel first of all interviewed referees in amateur football. On the basis of his findings, he compiled a questionnaire which was answered by over 900 referees.

“The study confirms that referees in amateur football are regularly exposed to aggression, whereby a differentiation can be made between insults, threats of violence and actual physical attacks”, explains Adrian Sigel. His study was designed in such a way that he was able to show how referees think about aggressive behaviour by players, but also by fans, coaches, officials and stewards, and to what causes they attribute it. They cite, amongst others, an emotionality which is specific and inherent to football, but also a growing potential for aggression throughout the whole of society, which finds an outlet in football.

The survey also illustrated which strategies referees use to deal with aggression and what the consequences are. These cover a broad spectrum and range from critical self-reflection to becoming accustomed to aggression to withdrawing completely from the job of referee. It was also possible to show for the first time that a large number of referees experience such stressful and negative situations as a personal growth and maturing process. It shapes or strengthens their personal identity.

“The study shows a complex and at the same time clear picture of referees’ experience with aggression and presents, structures and characterizes it for the first time in its context”, says Professor Sabine Windmann, supervisor of Sigel’s master’s thesis. Of particular importance is the fact that the topic of aggression towards referees with all its contexts, consequences and causal attributions is not described by means of externally applied schemata, but instead directly through statements made by the referees in the framework of the interviews.

 Further information: Adrian Sigel, Chair of General Psychology II, Westend Campus, Tel. 0179-9995070,



Nov 19 2015

A new high resolution method allows for the first time precise identification and quantification of interactions of a receptor with two ligands simultaneously.

New nanoscopic tools to study ligand-binding of receptors

Signalling processes in organisms are governed by specific extracellular and intracellular interactions and involve hundreds of different functionally highly versatile receptors situated in cell membranes. For scientists wishing to understand signalling processes the situation is made more complex by the receptors not only being unevenly distributed and often able to bind more than one ligand but also by the same type of receptor being able to bind a ligand strongly, weakly or not all. New methods that allow precise quantifications of such complex interactions are urgently required.

A new high resolution method developed by an international team of scientists including Robert Tampé and Ralph Wieneke from Goethe University Frankfurt now allows for the first time precise identification and quantification of interactions of a receptor with two ligands simultaneously. The new method has been published in the latest edition of the journal Nature Communications.

Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is a powerful technique for nanoscale characterization of surfaces. It makes use of a cantilever with an extremely fine tip. Force-distance curve-based atomic force microscopy (FD-based AFM) combines high-resolution imaging and single-molecule force spectroscopy. In studies using biological samples, the AFM tip approaches and retracts from the sample for each pixel. FD-based AFM methods use different coatings of the AFM tip as a toolbox and such methods have made impressive progress in recent years. For the detection of specific binding sites FD-based AFM requires tethering of a ligand to the AFM tip. While contouring protein complexes in a membrane such functionalized AFM tips can then measure the interactions of the tethered ligand to the protein. It had not been possible to image single membrane receptors and simultaneously detect their interactions with more than one ligand, but the new method has overcome this hurdle.

For their proof of principle the scientists used the human protease-activated receptor 1 (PAR1), one of the large family of G-protein-coupled membrane receptors. GPCRs mediate most cellular responses to hormones and neurotransmitters, as well as being responsible for vision, olfaction and taste. GPCRs can coexist in different functional states in the cell membrane and can bind various ligands at different strength or affinity. The GPCR PAR1 is activated by the coagulation protease thrombin which triggers signalling cascades to initiate cellular responses that help orchestrate haemostasis, thrombosis, inflammation and possibly also tissue repair. With the aid of their new FD-based AFM method human PAR1 in proteoliposomes could be imaged while simultaneously detecting extracellular and intracellular interactions of PAR1 with two ligands. The surface chemistry and nanoscopic method developed are applicable to a range of biological systems in vitro and in vivo.

Image for download:

Contact: Robert Tampé, Institute of Biochemistry,
Goethe University Frankfurt, Max von Laue Straße 9, 60438 Frankfurt/Germany