The Max Planck Research Group for Systems Immunology is a collaborative effort between the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg (JMU) and the Max Planck Society (MPG) aimed at promoting excellent immunological research. Around 50 researchers from more than 20 countries are working together to understand the basis of a successful immune response against infectious agents, chronic inflammatory diseases, and tumors. Their ultimate goal is to develop new concepts and strategies for vaccines and immunotherapies.
To achieve this, the group is investigating the development and function of the immune system holistically at multiple levels. They are conducting high-resolution analyses of single molecules and cells, examining complex cellular networks within organs, and exploring systemic interactions in the body and with the environment. These research goals align well with the internationally visible research on infectious diseases and immunotherapies at the Würzburg Life Science Campus.
The Research Group is Growing: Plans for a Third Director Position
The Max Planck Research Group was established in 2017 with the assistance of the Free State of Bavaria, in collaboration with the Max Planck Society at Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg. Following the creation of spatial and technical infrastructure and the establishment of working groups during a preliminary phase, the research group commenced its scientific work on January 1, 2020. At present, the group comprises six research teams led by directors Wolfgang Kastenmüller and Georg Gasteiger, as well as junior research group leaders Mercedes Gomez de Agüero, Anna Lippert, Carlos Talavera-López and Martin Vaeth. However, a third director position remains vacant. Intensive discussions are currently underway to recruit an outstanding immunologist to fill this position.
Interdisciplinary Research Enables a Holistic Approach
The appointment of Dominic Grün to the new university chair for "Computational Biology of Spatial Biomedical Systems" demonstrates that exceptional scientists view Würzburg as an ideal research environment for immunology. The position was created as part of a call for proposals from the Bavarian Network for Artificial Intelligence and integrated into the newly founded Institute for Systems Immunology. Grün, a physicist and bioinformatician, who previously conducted research at the Max Planck Institute in Freiburg and is now one of the most highly cited researchers in his field, was the ideal choice for this top-class position, which complements the research of the Max Planck team.
The Institute for Systems Immunology brings together experts from medicine, biology, physics, and computer science to understand the complex interactions between the immune system and the body. They utilize state-of-the-art techniques, such as high-resolution dynamic and quantitative imaging and sequencing technologies, as well as artificial intelligence, to explore the immune system across all size scales.
Würzburg as a strong immunological location
With the establishment of the Max Planck Research Group, immunology has gained great momentum at this site, as it directly relates to the scientific focal points of the location, including infection research, cardiovascular diseases, and hematological tumor diseases. Therefore, important strategic interactions have been established with researchers from Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg, University Hospital of Würzburg, and Helmholtz Center for RNA-based Infection Research. For instance, successful collaborative projects have been established in these areas (see below).
Moreover, Würzburg recently became one of four sites of the National Center for Tumor Diseases that focuses on immunotherapies research.
Research at the Würzburg Medical Campus can also be complemented by the activities of the Max Planck team well. Several clinics and institutes here study the regulation of immune cells and research immunotherapies for cancer and skin diseases.
Major non-university research organizations in Würzburg
In 2017, the Helmholtz Association and the University celebrated the establishment of their new joint Institute for RNA-based Infection Research in Würzburg. The Alliance of Science Organizations is also represented in Würzburg by the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC. The Max Planck Research Group for Systems Immunology is a crucial element in the efforts to expand non-university research at the Würzburg location and to further develop it at an excellent level, particularly in the field of immunology.
Impact and Momentum
Within a short period, our research groups have published 80 scientific papers in top international journals. Moreover, the international symposium on systems immunology, organized by the research group in Würzburg last year, received a broad and positive response.
The scientists at the Institute of Systems Immunology have also been successful in obtaining third-party funding, including three ERC grants, which are among the most prestigious European research grants. Collaborating with colleagues at the site, the research group has won several new SFB projects, such as the Würzburg SFBs 1525 ("Cardio-Immune Interfaces") and 1583 ("DECIDE: Decisions in Infectious Diseases"), as well as the TRR 338 ("LETSImmun: Lymphocyte Engineering for Immunotherapy"), in partnership with Munich.
Future of the Max Planck Research Group for Systems Immunology
The Max Planck Research Group for Systems Immunology will receive funding for five years initially. The aim of the Würzburg researchers is to transfer the research group to a new Max Planck Institute for Systems Immunology following a positive evaluation by an international review panel. Such an institute would be the only one within the MPS that focuses on immunology, a field of research that, as demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is of significant relevance to society.