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Alexander von Humboldt Professorship 2022

Jan Karlseder

Cologne is looking to further reinforce its outstanding research in ageing and cancer by recruiting the cell biologist Jan Karlseder and to become a world-leading centre in telomere biology.

  • Nominating University: University of Cologne
Potrait of Jan Karlseder
Saturn-ähnliches Dekortationsbild


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Cell biology

Jan Karlseder is a world leader in telomere biology and genome stability research whose fundamental insights have had a lasting impact on his field. At the beginning of the Noughties, Karlseder discovered that a certain protein that binds with telomeres and apparently protects them from further degradation delays cell ageing. Telomeres function like protective caps over the ends of the chromosomes that contain the genes. They shorten, however, with each cell division until the cell no longer divides. The ageing process progresses, and typical age-related disorders occur.

Insights like this are also important for cancer research because genetic errors in cell division can lead to cancer. With advancing age, the more likely they are to occur and cannot always be rectified by the body’s own repair system. In 2019, Karlseder and his team hit the headlines with the discovery of a mechanism that can halt cancer before it has even developed. It was assumed that autophagy, the cellular recycling process, enabled healthy cells and cancer cells to survive. But Karlseder’s team demonstrated that it promotes cell death and thus prevents the development of cancer.

As a Humboldt Professor, Jan Karlseder will assume a professorship in the Institute for Genetics at the University of Cologne and become a member of CECAD, the Cologne Excellence Cluster on Aging and Aging-associated Diseases. In CECAD, more than 400 international researchers from the university, university hospital, the Cologne-based Max Planck Institutes for Metabolism Research and for the Biology of Ageing as well as DZNE (the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases) study the ageing process and age-associated diseases. By appointing Jan Karlseder, the University of Cologne wants to upgrade the European vanguard position in ageing research it has already achieved yet further and, by closing the existing gap in telomere biology, become a world-class centre. Synergies with the Humboldt Professors already working in Cologne – Christian Frezza, Henning Walczak and Bart Thomma – are also foreseen.

Jan Karlseder has been selected to receive a Humboldt Professorship and is currently conducting negotiations with the German university that nominated him for the award. If negotiations are successful, the award will be granted in 2022.

Jan Karlseder at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies 

Brief bio

Austrian born Dr Jan Karlseder has been a professor of molecular and cell biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla and an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), United States, since 2011. He completed his doctorate at the University of Vienna in 1995 and subsequently became a postdoc at Rockefeller University in New York. In 2002, he began his parallel professorial career at the Salk Institute and UCSD. Karlseder is a member of the American Association of Cancer Research. In 2009, he received the Glenn Award for Research in Biological Mechanisms of Aging and also heads the Glenn Center for Research on Aging at the Salk Institute.