Graduiertenkolleg 2581

Key Note Speaker

Prof. Tony Futerman

Weizmann Institute of Science, Rahovot, Israel

Prof. Tony Futerman received his BSc degree in Biochemistry from the University of Bath, England in 1981, and his PhD degree from the Weizmann Institute of Science (Rehovot, Israel) in 1986 where he discovered that acetylcholinesterase, a key enzyme in terminating neuronal transmission, is attached to the cell membrane via a glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchor.

From 1987 to 1990, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Carnegie Institution (Baltimore, USA), where he analyzed the sites of sphingolipid synthesis.

In 1990, he joined the staff of the Weizmann Institute and he is currently the Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Biochemistry in the Department of Biomolecular Sciences. His current research field is "The regulation of sphingolipid metabolism".

Prof. Futerman runs a laboratory of approximately 20 scientists, postdoctoral fellows and students, and one of his main focuses is understanding how sphingolipid metabolism is regulated in both the biosynthetic and degradative pathways, with defects in the latter causing some human genetic diseases such as Gaucher disease.

More recently, he has become interested in studying the likelihood that generally accepted evolutionary pathways could lead to the development of the complexity seen in the sphingolipid metabolic pathway. He has published close to 300 manuscripts. He chaired the Gordon conference on Glycolipid and Sphingolipid Biology in 2006, the Lysosomal Diseases Gordon Conference in 2011, and chaired the Molecular Medicine of Sphingolipids meeting in 2012 and 2018. Between 1995-2000 he was a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Neurochemistry, and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry from 2000 to 2012. Recently, he started a new journal, BioCosmos: new perspectives on the origin and evolution of life.

Prof. Erich Gulbins

Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany

Erich Gulbins studied Medicine in Heidelberg, Germany, London, UK, and Louisville, KY, USA. He then trained at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, San Diego, Ca, USA and the Institute of Physiology, University of Tuebingen, Germany, before becoming Associate Professor at the Dept. of Immunology, St Jude Children´s Research Hospital, Memphis, TN, USA, and Professor and Chair at the Institute of Molecular Biology, University Hospital Essen, University of Duisburg, Essen, Germany.

Research programs mainly deal with inflammation and infection, cystic fibrosis, tumor pathogenesis, major depression and their treatment. His group studies molecular mechanisms how sphingolipids contribute and control bacterial and viral infections, in particular pulmonary inflammation/infections. A focus of the group is transfer of these findings to the clinic. His group also works on the role of mitochondrial ion channels and mitochondrial sphingolipids in tumor biology as well as the function of ceramide and sphingosine for the interaction of malignant tumors with their host.

Finally, he is interested in the role of sphingolipids, in particular ceramide and the acid sphingomyelinase, in the pathogenesis of major depressive disorder and as targets for novel treatments of this disease.


Prof. Wiebke Herzog

Friedrich Alexander Universität Erlangen

Wiebke Herzog studied Biology at the Free University in Berlin and one year at Exeter University, UK. She received her PhD for working at the Max Planck institute for immunobiology, Freiburg and trained as a PostDoc at the University of California, San Francisco. As the recipient of a NRW return fellowship and consecutively as a Heisenberg fellow, she joined the faculty at the University of Muenster from where she recently moved to the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen as a chair of developmental biology. 

Her major research interest is the regulation of vascular development by different signaling pathways, mainly using zebrafish as a model system. When analysing the brain vasculature and the formation of the blood-brain barrier, her group found an interesting cross talk between Wnt-  and Sphingosine-1 phosphate (S1P) signalling. Current research focusses on the S1P mediated regulation of blood-brain barrier tightness and on the role of Wnt and S1P in vessel regeneration. 


Prof. Josef Pfeilschifter

Institute of General Pharmacology and Toxicology, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main

Prof. Josef Pfeilschifter studied Medicine at the University of Regensburg and the Technical University of Munich, Germany. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Departments of Physiology at the University of Regensburg (Germany) and University of Zurich (Switzerland). In 1987 he joined the Pharmaceuticals Division of Ciba-Geigy Ltd. in Basel (Switzerland). In 1992 he was appointed Professor of Pharmacology at the  Biocenter of the University of Basel (Switzerland). Since 1996 Prof. Pfeilschifter is Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Chairman at Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main (Germany).

His major research interest is the signaling capacity of lipid mediators in general and particularly their role in inflammatory and fibrotic kidney diseases.

Prof. Frances Platt

University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Frances M. Platt is Professor of Biochemistry and Pharmacology and Head of the Department of Pharmacology, University of Oxford, UK.

She received her Ph.D. in Animal Physiology from the University of Bath, UK. After completing postdoctoral training at Washington University Medical School, St. Louis, she joined the faculty at the University of Oxford and was the recipient of a five-year Lister Institute Senior Research Fellowship. Her expertise relates to glycosphingolipids (GSL) and in particular glycosphingolipid (GSL) lysosomal storage diseases. She and her colleagues pioneered a novel approach to treat these inherited diseases that has led to the development of an approved drug (miglustat) for type 1 Gaucher disease and Niemann-Pick disease type C1 disease. She was awarded the Alan Gordon Memorial award from the UK Gaucher Association, the Horst-Bickel Award in recognition of her role in developing substrate reduction therapy for lysosomal disorders and the “Above and Beyond” award from National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases USA.

She has published extensively in this field over the past 20 years and co-edited a book titled Lysosomal Disorders of the Brain. She was an Editor for the Journal of Biological Chemistry (2009-2014) and serves on the advisory board of multiple lysosomal storage disease charities and organizations (UK and USA).

She was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2011 and Fellow of the Royal Society in 2021.



Prof. Sarah Spiegel

Dr. Sarah Spiegel is a Professor and Chair of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. She received her PhD in Biochemistry in 1983 from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot.

Her early research focused on the role of ganglioside GM1 in cell signaling. After joining the faculty of the Department of Biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical School, her focus shifted to the roles of the bioactive sphingolipid metabolite, sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P), whose functions as a pleiotropic signaling lipid were discovered in her lab and opened a new area of research focused on this bioactive sphingolipid metabolite. As a result of her work, it is now recognized that S1P regulates numerous biological processes and is critical for health and diseases.

Her work paved the way for the discovery of FTY720/fingolimod, used for treatment of multiple sclerosis, and recently unraveled a unique aspect of its mechanism of action. In 2002, she became Chair of the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at the Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine. In 2007, she assumed the Mann T. and Sara D. Lowry Chair in Oncology at the Massey Cancer Center, where she co-directed the Cancer Cell Signaling Program.

She has received many awards for her work, including VCU Distinguished Scholarship Award, the Women in Science, Dentistry, and Medicine (WISDM) Professional Achievement Award (2007), the Virginia Outstanding Scientist of the Year (2008), the Ernst and Berta Scharrer Medal from Goethe University (2008), the ASBMB Avanti Award in Lipids (2009), NIH Merit Award (2003), election as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2009), Journal of Lipid Research Special Lectureship (2015), Distinguished Mentor Award (2018), Eicosanoid Research Foundation’s Outstanding Achievement Award (2019), Selected as a Fellow of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2021) and has been a keynote speaker at numerous international meetings.

Dr. Fikadu Tafesse

Dr. Fikadu Tafesse is Assistant Professor in Molecular Microbiology & Immunology at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon.

After his BSc studies in Plant Sciences at the Alemaya University in Ethiopia and his Master degree in Biotechnology from the University of Hannover, Germany, he received his PhD in Biochemistry at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Despite the continuous effort to end the spread of infectious diseases, they remain the leading cause of death worldwide. The Tafesse Lab studies host-pathogen interactions of viruses (SARS-CoV-2, HIV and flaviviruses) and bacteria (M. tuberculosis). We focus on identifying and characterizing the host factors that are used by pathogens to secure invasion, persistence and propagation. We are especially interested in studying the role of cellular lipids in microbial pathogenesis and their significance on innate and adaptive immunity. We employ genome-wide genetic screens, various lipidomic analysis techniques and state-of-the-art microscopy tools to define the mechanisms of interactions at the host-pathogen interface.