Research prizes for the Leibniz-HKI

| by Charlotte Fuchs

Sophia Hitzler accepts the poster award. Source: Sude Dincer/Leibniz-HKI

This fall, a veritable shower of prizes fell on the scientists of the Leibniz-HKI. Several prizes were awarded at this year's meetings of microbiological societies.

At the annual meeting of the German Society for Hygiene and Microbiology (DGHM), in addition to Mark Gresnigt, who received the Young Investigator Award, the poster on the topic of what influence the host protein albumin has on vulvovaginal candidiasis was also awarded. The poster was a team effort: first author is Sophie Austermeier, PhD student in the Department of Microbial Pathogenicity Mechanisms, the presentation at the meeting was made by Sophia Hitzler, PhD student in the Junior Research Group Adaptive Pathogenicity Strategies.

A doctoral award was presented to Shuaibing Zhang from the Department of Paleobiotechnology at the annual meeting of the Association for General and Applied Microbiology (VAAM). His work focuses on the ecological role of natural products in microbial hunter-prey relationships.

But it was not only at the annual meetings of the DGHM and the VAAM that prizes went to Leibniz-HKI scientists.

Thomas Orasch with certificate next to Oliver Kurzai
Oliver Kurzai presented the young talent award. Source: Gabriele Henning-Wrobel

Grit Walther received the Research Promotion Award of the German-speaking Mycological Society (DMykG), which is endowed with 5000 euros. The prize is awarded for outstanding, internationally recognized achievements in the fields of clinical or experimental research in the field of medical mycology. Grit Walther heads the Jena laboratory of the National Reference Center for Invasive Fungal Infections at Leibniz-HKI and is involved in the Thuringian research group FusInfect, which focuses on infectious fungi of the genus Fusarium.

Thomas Orasch from the Antiinfectives Transfer Group also achieved a great success: he received the Young Investigator Award endowed with 2000 euros. Each year, the DMykG honors a researcher under the age of 40 with this prize at its annual meeting. Orasch received the prize for his work on nanoparticles, which in the future will be used to direct anti-infective agents directly to the source of infection and release them there in a controlled manner. "We now want to pursue this new therapeutic approach in the BMBF-funded ATHANA project, in which we are collaborating with six partners from industry and Jena University Hospital," explains Orasch, who is the project leader at Leibniz-HKI.

Macrophage with Aspergillus fumigatus that look like smileys.
Macrophages infected with Aspergillus fumigatus spores can sometimes look like smiley faces. Both cells and spores were stained with different fluorescent dyes. Source: Thomas Orasch/Leibniz-HKI

In addition, he received a photo prize of 500 euros. He had submitted a picture with mycological smiley faces, which won first place in the public vote. The fluorescence microscopy image shows five emojis, which in this case consist of scavenger cells of the immune system, so-called macrophages, infected with spores of Aspergillus fumigatus.

Candida albicans invades vaginal epithelial cells.
"Dancing with a stranger" - Candida albicans invades vaginal epithelial cells. Source: Özlem Kirav/Leibniz-HKI

Özlem Kirav, a master's student in the junior research group Adaptive Pathogenicity Strategies, also received two awards at the meeting. She received the Hans Rieth Poster Prize for presenting an "organ-on-chip" model she is using to research vulvovaginal candidiasis, a yeast infection of the female genital tract. The award is given for special didactic design of a scientifically outstanding poster. Kirav also received a photography award for her picture "dancing with a stranger." It shows Candida albicans invading vaginal epithelial cells.

Stefanie Allert from the Department of Microbial Pathogenicity Mechanisms received a publication award as first author. The paper, published in the journal Virulence, deals with pathogenicity of Candida auris, more specifically with its adaptation to the human body.

Another publication prize was awarded to Axel Dietschmann from the Emmy Noether Junior Research Group Adaptive Pathogenicity Strategies for his work on how phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) instrumentalizes Aspergillus fumigatus-induced activation of eosinophil granulocytes. Dietschmann completed the work published in mBio as first author while still at the Department of Infection Biology Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg before moving to Leibniz-HKI.

Stefanie Allert, Axel Dietschmann and Özlem Kirav happily hold their certificates for prizes at the DmykG.
Joy over success - Steffanie Allert, Axel Dietschmann and Özlem Kirav present their certificates. Sources: Özlem Kirav (left), Beatriz Cristóvão (right) / Leibniz-HKI

We are delighted about these scientific successes and congratulate all award winners very warmly!

Original publications

Orasch T, Gangapurwala G, Vollrath A, González K, Alex J, De San Luis A, Weber C, Hoeppener S, Cseresnyés Z, Figge MT, Guerrero-Sanchez C, Schubert US, Brakhage AA (2023) Polymer-based particles against pathogenic fungi: A non-uptake delivery of compounds. Biomater Adv. Mar;146:213300.

Allert S, Schulz D, Kämmer P, Großmann P, Wolf T, Schäuble S, Panagiotou G, Brunke S, Hube B (2022) From environmental adaptation to host survival: Attributes that mediate pathogenicity of Candida auris. Virulence Dec;13(1):191-214.

Dietschmann A, Schruefer S, Westermann S, Henkel F, Castiglione K, Willebrand R, Adam J, Ruland J, Lang R, Sheppard DC, Esser-von-Bieren J, Radtke D, Krappmann S, Voehringer D (2022) Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase (PI3K) Orchestrates Aspergillus fumigatus-Induced Eosinophil Activation Independently of Canonical Toll-Like Receptor (TLR)/C-Type-Lectin Receptor (CLR) Signaling. mBio Aug 30;13(4):e0123922.


Stefanie Allert
Sophie Austermeier
Axel Dietschmann
Mark Gresnigt
Sophia Hitzler
Özlem Kirav
Thomas Orasch
Grit Walther
Shuaibing Zhang