Interview with Dr Gunnar Dittmar, new Head of LIH’s Proteome and Genome Research Unit

2016 - 11 - 30

Interview with Dr Gunnar Dittmar, new Head of LIH’s Proteome and Genome Research Unit

On 1st October 2016, Dr Gunnar Dittmar was appointed as Head of the Proteome and Genome Research Unit in LIH’s Department of Oncology. He is the successor of Prof Bruno Domon, who set up and headed the Proteomics Research Group for over 5 years.

In an interview with LIH’s Communication Unit, Dr Dittmar tells about his plans to develop the research unit into a recognised technological platform for genomics and proteomics-based research.

Could you tell us a bit about your background? Where did you work before joining LIH?

I have a strong background in chemistry and biochemistry from my university studies. I did my PhD at the DKFZ, the German Cancer Research Centre, in Heidelberg in 1997 working on a cell biology project, before I crossed the Atlantic to work for six years first as a postdoctoral fellow and later as an instructor of cell biology at the Harvard Medical School in Boston in the United States. Back to Germany, I was recruited as an independent group leader at the Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine, shortly MDC, in Berlin in 2003.

Since 2007, I was starting and leading the MDC’s Proteomics Unit, and in 2014 I also became the Head of the Proteomics Core Facility of the Berlin Institute of Health, a translational research centre in which the MDC and the “Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin” joined forces. Here I started and built up the proteomics unit with a clinical focus.

My general research focus is on cellular protein degradation and post-translational modifications by ubiquitin and ubiquitin-like proteins although I am also interested in using proteomics for measuring cellular signal cascades and build models to describe them in silico.

Additionally I am a Visiting Professor at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa for a few years now.

Why did you decide to come to Luxembourg and join our institute?

I have heard about the departure of Prof Domon, and co-workers recommended the institute to me. I already had connections to Luxembourg through collaborations with the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine at the University of Luxembourg to which I was also invited to give a presentation. So I have already been to the Grand Duchy before.

LIH is a relatively young institute. I feel that it is dynamic and currently expanding. When I was working at the MDC, I experienced a very rapid development: during my 12 years at the institute, the staff increased from 350 to 1500. I hope to find a similar, lively and research-focussed atmosphere at LIH, as I know it from the MDC.

The research focus of the Proteome and Genome Research Unit is not widely known yet. What do you plan to give more visibility to the unit and open it to other LIH departments and external partners?

Very simple: I will talk to people (smiling). I want to promote our activities among the Luxembourgish research community first. I will though not advertise the unit as a simple service platform for genomics and proteomics analysis. I aim to establish true research collaborations in which all partners work on an equal level. We can get very fruitful outcomes if biologists, clinicians and biochemists collaborate on a high scientific level to solve biological questions.

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What is your strategic vision for the unit?

With my team, I aim to dig down to molecular levels of diseases and contribute to further develop personalised medicine tools.

For the genomics part, we need to specialise in Next Generation Sequencing for high-throughput DNA sequencing if we want to be at the forefront of biomedical research. This requires that we acquire state-of-the-art sequencing equipment. Regarding proteomics, I aim to add deep shot-gun proteomics to complement the targeted proteomics expertise. We have good equipment available but limited capacity. To analyse a few hundred samples, a machine must run for several weeks. More mass spectrometers will be needed to allow conducting larger studies.

Which international collaborations do you plan to have?

I plan to have plenty (smiling)! I will of course stay I touch with the research institutes I worked for before: the MDC, the Charité and the Technion. I also aim to collaborate for instance with the Universities of Rostock, Dresden, Reading and Bilbao, the DKFZ and the Helmholtzzentrum Munich. And I want the research unit to become part of multi-partner EU consortia as well.

A final more personal question: what do you like to do in your leisure time?

Spending time with my family! I am a very active person; I am always doing something on weekends. I like hanging out with my children and the dogs. My favourite hobby is kite land boarding. It works best on a beach. I need find a good place in Luxembourg for flying the kite. I also like cycling and cycle to work everyday, as I do not live very far from the institute.