After several stations in the USA, such as Yale and Harvard, a highly competitive ERC-starting grant brings Janna Nawroth back to Germany from the USC Keck School of Medicine and USC Viterbi School of Engineering in Los Angeles. Janna will be named Principal Investigator at the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus while establishing her first operations in close proximity to the Imaging- and Bioengineering experts of the IBMI – to benefit from mentorship of Prof. Vasilis Ntziachristos – who also strongly supported Janna’s ERC-application.
Welcome back to Germany and to Munich. What will be the focus of your research at HMGU?
Janna Nawroth: Thank you! I am very interested in the role of mechanical forces and cues, for example strain and shear, on modulating cellular responses, and I also study the other direction, i.e., how cells and tissues create their own mechanical environment. At HMGU I will focus on this feedback in the airways, a mechanically very active organ, and investigate how maladaptive mechanical stimulation and signaling may contribute to sustaining respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive inflammatory disease (COPD). To do so, I will leverage organ on chip technology to build microscale lung models and methods for controlled delivery and optical quantification of mechanical properties. In the near future I will expand this research to include resident immune cell responses to mechanical cues, which might be extremely important for understanding physiological and patho-physiological processes in humans.
"I am very honored that I received an ERC Starting Grant and it has opened up so many new opportunities already. The prestige factor and visibility also help with recruiting good people and generally getting a lot of interest in my work."
- Janna Nawroth, HPC PI
Not only will you become a member of the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus, but you were also attracted to and already plan close cooperation with colleagues at the future BioEngineering Center around Prof. Ntziachristos. What advantages do you expect for your research, working at such an intriguing scientific interface?
Janna Nawroth: I am extremely excited to work with the teams around Prof. Vasilis Ntziachristos on developing new imaging modalities and digital pathology approaches in organ on chip. Indeed, I will initially be located at TranslaTUM, until the new Pioneer Campus building is ready, which will be perfect for starting close collaborations and joint projects as many of the latest microscopes are located there. Of course, there is also a great interest in harnessing organ on chip for cancer research and I will be able to facilitate this development.
Congratulations to winning a highly prestigious ERC Starting Grant. What additional benefits and opportunities do you expect arising from this recognition, compared to rather institutional funding schemes?
Janna Nawroth: Thank you! I am very honored that I received this grant and it has opened up so many new opportunities already. For once, it provides me with sufficient funding to hire at least 2 people for five years, which is rare for other funding schemes, and this really helps with getting the lab started. Of course, the prestige factor and online visibility also help with recruiting good people and generally getting a lot of interest in my work.
After many years in the US, are you happy to be back in Germany? Is there anything you missed, or you think distinguishes scientific pursuit in Germany compared to the US?
Janna Nawroth: I have spent almost my entire academic career in the US and it will be very interesting to experience the German research culture! I think, generally speaking, the quality of higher education is more consistent in Germany compared to the States, so I hope it will be easier to find team members with a strong scientific background and training. On the other hand, one aspect that makes US academia strong is the diversity of people and a “can-do” mindset. I therefore certainly hope to keep the best of both worlds in my lab and will continue to collaborate with US colleagues and potentially recruit team member from the States as well.