Helle Ulrich awarded an ERC Advanced Grant

Prof. Helle Ulrich, Executive Director of the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) in Mainz, Germany, and professor at Johannes Gutenberg University (JGU), has been awarded an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to fund her research on how a small regulatory protein called ubiquitin contributes to DNA repair and the maintenance of genome stability.

Advanced Grants are awarded by the ERC to top researchers in Europe who are recognised leaders in their field. The grants allow them to pursue ambitious projects that can eventually lead to scientific breakthroughs. As a recipient of this prestigious grant, Helle will receive €2.5m to support her research over the next five years.

Helle’s team specialises in understanding how cells repair DNA damage caused by genotoxic agents (e.g. UV radiation, mutagenic chemicals) and ensure that their DNA is accurately replicated when the cell divides. This is crucial for preventing mutations that can cause ageing and cancer. The new grant will allow her to investigate how a small, highly conserved regulatory protein called ubiquitin contributes to DNA replication and repair. Ubiquitin is a post-translational modifier attached to many proteins (including key proteins in DNA replication and repair pathways) and regulates their interactions, stability and activities in the cell. 

“Our project builds on a powerful technique we recently developed in our lab to manipulate and target the attachment of ubiquitin to proteins in cells”, says Helle. “By purposefully directing the ubiquitylation of a relevant target protein, such as a DNA repair factor, we can watch its effects in isolation from other cellular processes and thereby gain a deeper mechanistic understanding of its function”. Using this new technique, Helle and her group hope to decipher how cells direct different DNA replication and repair pathways, as well as how this may be dysregulated in disease.

Advanced Grants are one of the most competitive and prestigious grants awarded to senior scientists in Europe. In 2023, the ERC awarded 81 Advanced Grants to researchers across 15 countries from all fields of research, out of a total of 1,795 applications.

Further details

Helle Ulrich is Executive and a Scientific Director at the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB). Further information about research in the Ulrich lab can be found at www.imb.de/ulrich 

About the Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH 

The Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB) is a centre of excellence in the life sciences that was established in 2011 on the campus of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). Research at IMB focuses on the cutting-edge fields of epigenetics, genome stability, ageing and RNA biology. The institute is a prime example of successful collaboration between a private foundation and government: The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation has committed 154 million euros to be disbursed from 2009 until 2027 to cover the operating costs of research at IMB. The State of Rhineland-Palatinate has provided approximately 50 million euros for the construction of a state-of-the-art building and is giving a further 52 million in core funding from 2020 until 2027. For more information about IMB, please visit: www.imb.de.

Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation

The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization that is committed to the promotion of the medical, biological, chemical, and pharmaceutical sciences. It was established in 1977 by Hubertus Liebrecht (1931–1991), a member of the shareholder family of the Boehringer Ingelheim company. Through its funding programmes Plus 3, Exploration Grants and Rise up!, the Foundation supports excellent scientists during critical stages of their careers. It also endows the international Heinrich Wieland Prize, as well as awards for up-and-coming scientists in Germany. In addition, the Foundation funds institutional projects in Germany, such as the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. www.boehringer-ingelheim-stiftung.de/en

Press contact for further information

Dr Ralf Dahm, Director of Scientific Management

Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB), Ackermannweg 4, 55128 Mainz, Germany 

Phone: +49 (0) 6131 39 21455, Email: press(at)imb.de