ATTRACT Fellow Prof Karsten Hiller to take up prestigious role in Germany as fellowship concludes

Outgoing FNR ATTRACT Fellow Prof Karsten Hiller may be leaving Luxembourg to take on a new challenge, but his relationship with the Grand Duchy is far from over.

Dr Hiller has been recruited as successor of Prof Dr Dietmar Schomburg at the University of Braunschweig, where he will take on the role as Director of the Department of Bioinformatics and Biochemistry. In line with the collaborative nature of research, Dr Hiller will continue to work with various scientists in Luxembourg – and the work accomplished during his fellowship will have a lasting impact on research in the country.

Bringing cellular metabolism research to Luxembourg

Dr Karsten Hiller was awarded an FNR ATTRACT Fellowship in 2010, with which he brought experimental and computational research in cellular metabolism to Luxembourg. He set up the metabolomics group at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) at the University of Luxembourg. During the 5 following years, the group implemented a high-quality mass spectrometry-based profiling platform and applied their expertise to study metabolism in-depth.

Scientific breakthrough ‘made in Luxembourg’

The biggest achievement of the Dr Hiller-led metabolomics group was the discovery of the metabolite itaconic acic, and what role it plays in specific mammalian immune cells called macrophages.

“We showed that these immune cells can produce high amounts of endogenous antibiotics – a phenomenon that has not been known before. We demonstrated the presence, the biosynthetic pathway and the mode of action of this organic acid during inflammation – all these have been developed and are native ‘out of Luxembourg’”, explains Dr Hiller. The findings of the group were published in the prestigious scientific journal PNAS and could now help other researchers make further discoveries in this domain.

Research findings will continue to impact research in Luxembourg

The research conducted by Dr Hiller and his team has led to a metabolomics analysis platform at the LCSB, which includes protocols for sample preparation, as well as mass spectrometry, computational data processing and storage. This work will continue to have an impact on and benefit for Luxembourg research:

“All of this established knowledge will stay in Luxembourg and will be open to the Luxembourgish research environment. I have no doubt that our biomarker related research of CSF and plasma of PD patients will support the NCER diagnosis initiative in the future.”

Passing on the torch

The nature of a researcher’s career involves a cycle of movement: you work on a project, you produce useful results and new discoveries, and you move on to the next project, or the next stage of a project – very often at another university like now Dr Hiller. He stresses that it was important to him not to put his team at a disadvantage due to his move – some of the PhD candidates and postdocs in the team will continue their work with Dr Hiller in Braunschweig. The ones who remain in Luxembourg have already found positions at Luxembourg research institutions to take up once Dr Hiller’s project officially concludes at the end of the summer.

As for what the next steps are for the metabolomics group in Luxembourg, Dr Hiller explains: “Our platform manager Dr Christian Jäger developed into one of the best analytical experts in the field during the period of my ATTRACT programme – and he will remain at LCSB and provide all of his expertise to the scientific community in Luxembourg.”

Luxembourg: “An excellent place for highly competitive biomedical research”

Naturally, it is not without some sadness that Luxembourg sees Dr Hiller leave the country. However, Dr Hiller’s work will continue to unfold its impact in Luxembourg for years to come – and Dr Hiller  sees great potential in the future of Luxembourg’s research:

“I think to highly focus on a specific research topic is comparable to a laser which concentrates its energy on a small point; this makes the difference for a small country. During my appointment at LCSB, the Luxembourgian research destination developed into an excellent place for biomedical research that is highly competitive on an international level.”


“The work accomplished by Dr Hiller, and the fact that he is taking on such a prestigious role, is testimony to how much difference an ATTRACT Fellowship can make both to Luxembourg as a research destination and to a scientist’s career.

“While Dr Hiller is moving on to take on a new challenge, the impact his work has had is undeniable, and it has truly put Luxembourg systems biomedicine research on the global map. Dr Hiller will be an ambassador for research in Luxembourg – the country will undoubtedly continue to benefit from this research for years to come, for example in the NCER Parkinson study, and through international collaborations with scientists here in Luxembourg.”

– Dr Marc Schiltz, Secretary General of the FNR

“Scientists from all over the world will notice that LCSB has become a springboard for talented young scientists and that doing research in Luxembourg is good for their career. And what could be a better advertisement and attractor for the next generation of ATTRACT-fellows to apply?”

– Dr Rudi Balling, Director of the LCSB

Maintaining collaborations with Luxembourg

Dr Hiller already has a list of Luxembourg collaborations he will maintain once commencing his new role as Professor and Director of the Department of Bioinformatics and Biochemistry at the University of Braunschweig. Topics of these collaborations include looking at particular aspects during cancer development, as well as studying the link between melanoma and Parkinson’s disease.

It is safe to say the impact Dr Hiller will have on research in Luxembourg is far from over – and that it will continue to grow as the collaborations flourish.

Additionally, Dr Hiller has helped further establish Luxembourg’s reputation as a first-class research destination, where scientists can not only benefit from good working conditions, but also make significant contributions to their domains, not only in the Luxembourg context, but also in a global context.

Read the full interview with Dr Hiller

 


More information

About ATTRACT

The FNR’s ATTRACT programme is designed for researchers not yet established in Luxembourg, who demonstrate the potential to become leaders in their field of research. The scheme offers promising junior researchers the opportunity to set up their own research team within one of the country’s research institutions.

Dr Hiller praises the ATTRACT programme, expressing:

“Without any doubt, the ATTRACT fellowship was enabling this big step in my career. Due to all the privileges of an ATTRACT fellow, I could develop into an independent research group leader and qualify for the new position. Very important in this regard was the authorization to teach at the University, to supervise master and PhD candidates and the possibility to apply independently for funding.

“Besides that, the ATTRACT programme offered me all the resources to purchase the required instrumentation, to hire personnel and gave me a lot of flexibility on how to spend the budget. This always allowed me to quickly react on specific situations.”

About Dr Hiller

Karsten Hiller earned his PhD from the University of Braunschweig (DE), where he subsequently became a postdoctoral fellow. Before he came to Luxembourg to commence his ATTRACT Fellowship at LCSB at the University of Luxembourg, he held a second doctoral position at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.

In 2014, together with Dr Thekla Cordes and Dr Alessandro Michelucci,  Dr Hiller won an FNR Award for ‘Outstanding Scientific Publication’ in 2014 for the publication ‘Immune-responsive Gene 1 Protein Links Metabolism to Immunity by Catalyzing Itaconic Acid Production’.

As his ATTRACT Fellowship concludes, Dr Hiller will take up the position of full Professor for Biochemistry and Bioinformatics at the University of Braunschweig, and director of the department of Bioinformatics and Biochemistry at the TU-Braunschweig. In addition, he will have an affiliation with the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI). His team will be part of the newly established Braunschweig Integrated Centre of Systems Biology (BICS).

About the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB)

The Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) is an interdisciplinary research centre at the University of Luxembourg. It is accelerating biomedical research by closing the link between systems biology and medical research.

Collaborations between different disciplines are offering new insights into complex systems like cells, organs and organisms. These findings are essential for understanding principal mechanisms of disease pathogenesis and for developing new tools in diagnostics and therapy.

Neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and description of diseases as networks are at the focus of the LCSB’s research.

The Centre has established strategic partnerships with leading biomedical laboratories and industrial partners worldwide and accelerates the translation of fundamental research results into clinical applications.


 

FNR ATTRACT Fellows in Biomedicine (Karsten Hiller segment commences around 1:40)

FNR Awards 2014: Alessandro MICHELUCCI, Thekla CORDES and Karsten HILLER (University of Luxembourg) win FNR Award for ‘Outstanding Scientific Publication’ for: ‘Immune-responsive Gene 1 Protein Links Metabolism to Immunity by Catalyzing Itaconic Acid Production’.

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