Centre for Biological Signalling Studies

ERC Consolidator Grant for BIOSS Vice-Speaker

The European Research Council will be funding Maja Banks-Köhn with 2 million euros
Photo: Jürgen Gocke

The chemical biologist Prof. Dr. Maja Banks-Köhn has received a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). The ERC Consolidator Grant will provide two million euros over a period of five years to the grantees, who is working in one of the strategic research areas at the University of Freiburg. Banks-Köhn is a biological signalling researcher at the BIOSS – Centre for Biological Signalling Studies and the vice scientific director of the cluster. This is the first time that three ERC Consolidator Grants, which are regarded as one of the most prestigious research grants in Europe, were given to researchers at the University of Freiburg in the same awarding round. Two additional grants were offered to Johanna Pink and to Henning Jessen. “I congratulate my colleagues on this outstanding success,” said Prof. Dr. Hans-Jochen Schiewer, Rector of the University, adding: “This honor is an excellent example of the outstanding work of our researchers. They are the driving force behind the innovative strength and international visibility of our strategic and emerging research areas.”

In her ERC project, Maja Banks-Köhn will be researching how artificially developed molecules can be used to impact signalling pathways with the aim to develop new medical applications in the future. She is particularly interested in the regulation of protein phosphatase 1 (PP1), which is an enzyme found in most cells in the body and also plays an important role in heart health. PP1 affects many different cellular proteins by biochemically removing phosphate groups from these proteins and is therefore a key control element in signalling pathways in the cell. Under normal conditions, PP1 binds with regulatory proteins that control its activity. However, if this balance becomes disturbed, this negatively affects the cell’s functions. In the heart, such malfunctions contribute to the development of cardiomyopathy and heart failure. Banks-Köhn has developed molecules called PP1-disrupting peptides that are able to control the activity of PP1. In her ERC project, these molecules will enable her to better understand how PP1 functions, with the goal of testing new approaches to treating heart disease in the future.p

Banks-Köhn studied chemistry at the University of Kiel and received her PhD from the Technische Universität in Dortmund and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology (also in Dortmund) in 2005. She then became a researcher at Harvard University in Cambridge (Massachusetts, USA) before working as a group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. She became Professor of Integrative Signalling Studies at the Institute of Biology III of the University of Freiburg in 2016. She is also a board member of the excellence cluster CIBSS. Banks-Köhn is the first researcher at the University of Freiburg to receive an ERC Consolidator Grant after having also received an ERC Starting Grant.