Hotspot of international medical research: Marburg

Prof. Dr. Katharina Krause has been President of the Philipps University of Marburg for almost 10 years. As president, this art historian manages varied responsibilities including overseeing the affairs of the university’s medical department. Here she talks about the special features of Marburg and why young researchers appreciate the city.

The city of Marburg is inseparably linked with the name of Nobel Prize winner Emil von Behring. To what extent does he still inspire the medical research landscape at the university? 

Prof. Krause: To this day at Uni Marburg, Emil von Behring’s fields of research, such as immunology and infectiology, continue to be pursued intensively and receive international visibility. Research is what drives our physicians. In addition, more than 30 years ago, the Philipps University of Marburg was the first German university to introduce a human biology course at the Faculty of Medicine, alongside human and dental medicine. This course of study builds a bridge between medical and natural science-oriented issues. The scientists in human biology are purely research-oriented. Our graduates are also in great demand on the international job market for medical research, which confirms the quality of our education.

What other special features characterize Philipps University?

Prof. Krause: Our university is spread over two locations: once in Marburg the Philipps University in close symbiosis with the city and since the 1960s the university clinic on the heights outside the city centre, which is developing from there. Especially since the merger with the University Clinic Gießen, the campus has also been of great importance for the state of Hesse. The name Marburg has a rather unpleasant connection with the Marburg virus, which belongs to the same family as the Ebola virus. At our Institute of Virology, we conduct research on these viruses and operate a high-security laboratory for this purpose, of which there are only four in the whole of Germany. Our scientists are doing excellent work here, for example on new findings in the recent Ebola epidemics in Africa. They are currently also involved in the development of a corona vaccine in cooperation with the German Centre for Infection Research. 

How important are research consortia and networks for the work of your scientists?

Prof. Krause: They are immensely important; nowadays, vaccine developments in particular are almost always carried out in networks. Currently, the pharmaceutical company CSL Behring is forming a plasma alliance with other companies to develop a drug against Covid-19. However, we are not only combining our strengths internationally, but also locally – the aforementioned virology is also very strong at the University of Gießen and is our common topic. The Technische Hochschule Mittelhessen (THM) in turn provides the knowledge of the engineers as well as medical technology and medical physics. We are also home to the Marburg Ion Beam Therapy Centre for tumour therapy, which we would not have been able to get this far without the medical physicists of the THM. Such strong partnerships are naturally also very important for our reputation.

You mentioned tumor therapy – how do you see yourself positioned in cancer research to be able to offer patients new therapy options?

Prof. Krause: This is of course a big topic for us and one of our main focuses, as we combine all the necessary medical disciplines that work together on an interdisciplinary basis. We see great progress in the field of personalized medicine in particular, with its approach of developing therapies tailored to the individual needs of patients. s is a long and costly road, but we are very well positioned for this in Marburg: in addition to our research institutes and therapy centers, we have the renowned Coordination Center for Clinical Trials as an independent institution at our university. This also helps us to get patients into the important clinical studies so that we can monitor the success of therapies with scientific support. To achieve visible progress in the fight against cancer would be something great!

A good reputation is especially important for the next generation: How do you manage to make promising young scientists and students aware of Marburg as a location? 

Prof. Krause: We are indeed very successful in Marburg. Especially in the field of cancer research, promising scientists come to us from abroad, for example as Humboldt Foundation fellows. Marburg offers a high quality of life, especially for young families. Our public relations work is also very active in reporting about the work at the university through various channels – this helps us a lot to communicate our successes to the outside world and to draw attention to us. We also invest in education and training and make many offers to young people, which gives them additional strength. Recently, our medical faculty won the Hessian University Award for Excellence in Teaching for a program for medical students in their practical year in which general medicine plays a major role. Marburg has traditionally been an important location for the training of general practitioners in particular. In addition to our cutting-edge research, we also have our sights set on the further development of our health care system. 

What would you give to young scientists?

Prof. Krause: Whether in research or teaching: there are always hard times and setbacks here. My advice is to persevere and believe in yourself. 

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