Helmholtz Pioneer Campus names new Director of Biomedicine, Maria-Elena Torres Padilla

Helmholtz Pioneer Campus has named Maria-Elena Torres Padilla its new Director of Biomedicine. As the Director of the Institute of Epigenetics and Stem Cells at Helmholtz Munich, Maria Elena studies how cell potency and cell fate are regulated by chromatin-mediated processes. Maria-Elena succeeds Matthias Tschöp, currently CEO at Helmholtz Munich.


Matthias, together with Vasilis Ntziachristos and Thomas Schwarz-Romond (HPC-Directors of Bioengineering and Operations, respectively), launched the Pioneer Campus at Helmholtz Munich in 2017. Designed to serve as a global hub for interdisciplinary research, the Pioneer Campus has gone on to recruit 60 highly-promising scientists from 20 countries. This professionally and personally diverse group is pushing the boundaries of biomedicine and biomedical innovation, creating novel solutions to society’s many health challenges.


"To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often."
Winston Churchill

Maria-Elena and Matthias agreed to a brief interview to discuss both the history and the future of the ever-evolving Pioneer Campus. A transcript of the interview follows below.

Matthias: having conceived HPC as an idea and governed its initial years: is there a single highlight you remember particularly?
The excitement, the energy, ideas and ambitions that filled the room when we interviewed the first cohorts for our HPC PI-positions. If you allow me to add a second: the foundation stone ceremony for the new HPC-building, which we combined with the formal opening of the Helmholtz Diabetes Center – outstanding science needs physical environments and infrastructures that enables groundbreaking work, and also bring teams together, stimulate communication and facilitate exchange.


What gives you the confidence that Maria-Elena is the perfect successor?
I am certain that Maria-Elena has the personality and intuition to push HPC to the next level. She is an internationally highly regarded scientists, way beyond the Epigenetics and Stem Cell community, and a strong ambassador of the outstanding research we deliver at Helmholtz Munich. She has all the qualities to complement Vasilis and Thomas with her co-leadership - to get the Pioneer Campus to the next level. 


How do you envision the future of HPC, from your new perspective as CEO of the Helmholtz Center?
I envision the Pioneer Campus to become a lighthouse of how we redefine discovery for the future. HPC is here to support promising scientists with big ideas giving them the relevant tools and a platform for high-risk, high-value projects. Of course, our formulated ambitions remain: nurture Pioneers that deliver transformative research with everlasting impact on society’s health.


Maria Elena: congratulations to and a very warm welcome in your new role as HPC’s Director for Biomedicine. What does this new responsibility mean to you?
I see it as an opportunity to help shaping our future, of providing support and input to our pioneers, and to bring a novel angle from the stem cell and epigenetics expertise that has made my career so far. As always, it’s an opportunity to learn and tackle new challenges too! And much more: but I think this is meant to be brief, so that would by my first response.


After your first explorations, what would describe as HPC’s major strength, current weakness? What are the most promising assets/opportunities?
It is an extremely exciting endeavor, with a great potential. What has impressed me the most is the talent of the pioneers, and their ambition to achieve major breakthroughs. This is a very clear strength. Their interdisciplinary training is fantastic too. Together with the environment of HMGU, this is a unique and really rare opportunity to generate novel solutions and discover new paradigms for life-sciences and to improve health. The HPC is a unique opportunity to bridge across disciplines and develop synergies not only within Helmholtz Munich, but well beyond – harnessing novel technologies for new discoveries.

In terms of weakness, it is not necessarily a weakness, as it can be turned also an opportunity…but I would say that we are currently in a consolidation phase, and hence weaknesses associated to any consolidation process must be considered. We will work hard and adjust to carry HPC through this consolidation phase, and I am confident that we will continue delivering to our shared ambitions. And considering the caliber of people, I am certain we will turn these challenges into opportunities!


Are there maybe three keywords that describe your vision for how to shape HPC?
Nurturing – Interdisciplinary – Excellence!