Research Training Group at Heidelberg University

“Elucidation of molecular mechanisms as foundation for an evidence-based complementary and integrative medicine”


The new interdisciplinary Research Training Group (RTG) is being set up at Heidelberg University. The purpose of the RTG is to scientifically investigate the molecular mechanisms mediating the effects of complementary medicine.

For this, the RTG has 4 PhD Fellowships available for a period of 3 years (starting: 1. October 2017 or later). Deadline for application was 20. August 2017.

General information

About the RTG. The purpose of the interdisciplinary RTG is to unravel the molecular mechanisms mediating the effects of complementary medicine. The scientific projects within the RTG will be on plant active ingredients and photobiomodulation in respect to their effects on the immune system, tumor defense, regulation of the natural intestinal barrier and wound healing. The final goal is to obtain solid scientifically consolidated findings to critically evaluate methods of complementary medicine for future treatments of tumors or chronic inflammatory diseasesThe RTG is funded by the Landesgraduiertenförderung (LGF) of the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of Baden-Württemberg.

What we offer. The RTG provides talented and ambitious candidates with an excellent and stimulating research environment. The individual research projects are thematically closely related with partial methodological overlap to allow for intensive and inspiring scientific exchange. The PhD candidates will have access to state-of-the-art research technologies in modern cell and molecular biology (gene expression profiling, bioinformatics, flow cytometry, cell imaging, optical tissue clearing, animal models). The doctoral education further includes a well-structured training program and intensive supervision. The RTG is closely collaborating with the Graduate Academy and other international graduate programs at Heidelberg University. Furthermore, the RTG will be associated to national joint research projects in the field, for example the newly founded Academic Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine (AZKIM).    

What we expect. The successful candidate must hold a university degree (master or equivalent above average) that gives access to undertake doctoral studies. Further prerequisites are profound bio­medical knowledge and in-depth education in cell and molecular biology and/or immunology. Moreover, very good English skills (spoken and written) are taken for granted. In addition, to conduct a superior doctorate successfully, it is essential to bring in a high degree of motivation as well as passion for science and for developing independent scientific ideas.

Research Projects

P1 Molecular and functional effects of redox-active plant derived substances as potential candidates for therapeutic immune modulation

Project leader: Prof. Dr. med. Yvonne Samstag
Molecular Immunology, Institute of Immunology, Medical Faculty Heidelberg, University of Heidelberg
phone: +49 (0)6221 56-4039, e-mail, homepage

The immune system plays an important role to ensure the health of an individual. Hyperactivity of immune cells causes chronic inflammation. Hypo-responsiveness in turn leads to immune deficiencies (induced for example by tumors). Both may at least in part be related to a disturbance of the cellular redox balance, i.e. production and elimination of reactive oxygen species. Many natural active substances derived from plants are supposed to influence the redox balance and, hence, may be promising candidates for  therapeutic immune modulation. Aim of this project it to unravel the molecular mechanisms of action of redox-active plant derived substances on the signal transduction and cellular responses of human immune cells. To this end, we will employ a variety of modern technologies in cell and molecular biology, as well as high-resolution imaging techniques.

P2 Control of the Innate immune responses by diet-related activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor

Project leader: Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Adelheid Cerwenka
Division Innate Immunity, Medical Faculty Mannheim, University of Heidelberg
phone: +49 (06)221 424-480, e-mail, homepage

A connection between nutrition and the activation of components of the innate immune system, such as natural killer (NK) cells and innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), has been discussed for a long time; insights into mechanisms, however, are still missing. The aim of the project is to decipher the influence of nutritional compounds (e.g. broccoli and radishes) and diets (e.g. high fat diet) on the innate immune response in the liver and to uncover the underlying mechanisms (e.g. the role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR)). To this end, we will investigate innovative mouse models of diet-induced liver damage and carcinogenesis and will validate gained concepts with human immune cells. The results obtained in this project should help to design diet regimens for patients with liver disease that might positively affect the outcome of disease.

P3 Investigation of the molecular mode of action of ginger and boldin in inflammatory response and intestinal barrier function

Project leader: PD Dr. rer. nat. Beate Niesler
Genetics of Neurogastroenterologic Disorders, Department of Human Molecular Genetics, Institute of Human Genetics, Medical Faculty Heidelberg, University of Heidelberg
phone: +49 (0)6221 56-35274, e-mail, homepage

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) often goes along with impaired intestinal barrier function and low grade inflammation. The pungent agents in ginger, menthol and boldin inhibit serotonin-3 receptor (5-HT3R) function. 5-HT3 receptors regulate emesis and vomiting, gut motility and peristalsis, secretion and visceral perception as well as intestinal barrier function. Major aim of the project is the investigation of the mode of action of ginger and boldin and the role of 5-HT3Rs in inflammatory response and intestinal barrier function.

P4 The molecular basis of photobiomodulation in skin

Project leader: Prof. Dr. med. Norbert Gretz
Medical Research Center, Medical Faculty Mannheim, University of Heidelberg
phone: +49 (0)621 383-5602, e-mail, homepage

Aim of this project is to elucidate how/what light-effects in skin are transferred into changes in gene expression profiles and their final translation into proteins occur. Furthermore, the impact of microRNAs will be analyzed. We expect that the aryl hydrocarbon receptor is the major player which leads to changes in expression profiles. Therefore, AhR agonists and antagonists will be used. The following techniques will be applied: gene expression profiling, optical tissue cleaning, western plotting, PCR. The project includes animal experiments on chronic wounds and tumor development.    


Please, send your application (cover letter, CV, certificates, reference letters) latest by 20. August 2017 either addressed to Prof. Dr. Yvonne Samstag, Institute of Immunology, University Hospital Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 305, 69120 Heidelberg or sent by e-mail (please use PDF, max 10 MB) to Phone: +49-6221-56 4039.

Heidelberg University intends to increase the percentage of women in all fields where women are underrepresented. We are therefore asking qualified female candidates for their application. Handicapped candidates with comparable qualifications will be given preference.