Virologist Petr Chlanda Receives Chica and Heinz Schaller Research Award

In his tribute, Hans-Georg Kräusslich, Chairperson of the Schaller Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Council and spokesperson of the Department (Center) for Infectious Diseases, acknowledged the outstanding scientific work of the awardee. With his research group, Dr Chlanda implemented a workflow for cryro-electron microscopy, with which it is possible to examine the structure of numerous viruses at the level of single molecules. In so doing, Petr Chlanda and his team were among the first scientists to have succeeded in rendering visible molecular details of the structure and replication of SARS-CoV-2 directly inside the infected cells - here specifically with the aid of high-resolution electron tomography, with which it is possible to ’look inside’ a cell and examine large complexes in the cellular context. In his current studies, the virologist also concentrates on the structures and mechanisms of influenza A viruses and Ebola viruses. The question of particular interest is how the respective virus changes infected cells to achieve effective proliferation. In future, the scientists also want to investigate viral infections of the respiratory tract with the aid of lung tissue and organoids.

Petr Chlanda studied biochemistry at Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic) and earned his doctorate at Heidelberg University in 2010. While working towards his dissertation, he also used electron microscopy methods in particular. There followed a postdoctoral research position at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, and from 2011 he did research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda (USA). In 2017 he returned to Heidelberg and, since then, has headed a Chica and Heinz Schaller Foundation-funded research group on the membrane biology of viral infections. The group is located at the BioQuant Center at Ruperto Carola and also has a base at the Center for Integrative Infectious Disease Research of Heidelberg University Hospital. Dr Chlanda is a founding member of the Cryo-Electron Microscopy Network of Heidelberg University (HDcryoNet).

Rohini Kuner, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Chica and Heinz Schaller Foundation, spoke at the start of the award ceremony on 21 November 2023. In his "2023 Schaller Award Lecture", Dr Chlanda presented his work. He explained the use of cryo-electron microscopy to clarify fundamental questions about the replication strategies of RNA viruses. The ceremony was concluded by Karoly Nikolich, Deputy Chairperson of the Board. The Foundation established by scientists Chica Schaller and Heinz Schaller has funded biomedical basic research in Heidelberg since 2000. That involves, in particular, setting up and financing the "Schaller Research Groups", which operate at Heidelberg University and the German Cancer Research Center. The main funding instruments also include the research award named after the two donors, which has been awarded annually to outstanding young Heidelberg scientists since 2005.