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Seed Funding Program

The DKFZ Hector Cancer Institute at University Medicine Mannheim (UMM) has launched a competitive funding program in 2022 to promote interdisciplinary and cross-institutional collaboration between clinicians at the UMM and scientists at the DKFZ for high-quality, cutting-edge oncological research. The funding program aims to rapidly transfer scientific findings into patient care and offers 2-year start-up funding for research ideas in the basic science to clinical-translational area on diagnostic, therapeutic or preventive aspects of personalized precision oncology. The results and data packages generated will serve as the basis for acquiring further external funding to continue/expand the project. All DKFZ Principle Investigators of a funded project receive the status of an associated member of the DKFZ Hector Cancer Institute for the duration of the project. 

Seed Funding Program 2022

As part of the first call for proposals of the DKFZ Hector Seed Funding Program, ten projects are being funded since November 2022 following an external review:

• Nuh Rahbari, Surgical Clinic, UMM
• Jens Puschhof, Microbiome and Cancer, DKFZ

The project will provide information on how certain bacteria that live in the main tumor or the metastases of colon cancer, affect the success of immune-based treatments. To do this, tiny versions of the tumors and these bacteria are grown together to see how they interact.

Detailed description

• Melanie Janning, Personalized Oncology, UMM
• Felix Hartmann, Systems Immunology and Single-Cell Biology, DKFZ

The aim of this project is to conduct a high-dimensional proteomic characterization of individual circulating tumor cells from non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients and their relation to primary and metastatic tumor tissue, using improved sample enrichment workflows and the multiplexed ion beam imaging (MIBI) platform.

Detailed description

• Michael Platten, Neurological Clinic, UMM
• Nina Papavasiliou, Immune Diversity, DKFZ

The goal is to develop and translate an entirely novel therapeutic approach to enhance immunity in malignant gliomas through genetic immune engineering at the tumor and T cell level.

Detailed description


• Mohammad Rahbari, Chronic Inflammation and Cancer, DKFZ + Surgical Clinic, UMM

In patient-derived specimens and in vivo models, we aim to identify bacteria, whose presence and metabolic activity correlates with anti-tumor immune surveillance and immunotherapy response in hepatocellular carcinoma.

Detailed description

• Frederik Marmé, Gynaecological Clinic, UMM
• Benedikt Brors, Applied Bioinformatics, DKFZ

The overall goal of this project is to elucidate changes in tumor-immune interaction in patients receiving PARP and immune checkpoint inhibitor treatment and to identify potential biomarkers using single cell and spatial RNA sequencing as well as liquid biopsy analysis. 

Detailed description

• Tianzuo Zhan, II. Medical Clinic/ Translational Gastrointestinal Oncology, UMM
• Johannes Betge, DKFZ-Hector Junior Clinical Cooperation Unit Translational Gastrointestinal Oncology and Preclinical Models, DKFZ

Identification and functional characterization of an improved strategy for combined MAPK-pathway inhibition and radiation therapy in rectal cancer by cell culture and tumor organoid experiments.

Detailed description


• Jochen Utikal, Dermatological Clinic, UMM
• Nikolas Gunkel, Cancer Drug Development, DKFZ

Within this project, first selective inhibitors of SETDB1 will be identified by first screening multiple chemical libraries, followed by in depth characterization of hits within the framework of established biochemical and cellular marker assays.

Detailed description


• Lukas Bunse, Neurological Clinic, UMM
• Stefan Eichmüller, GMP & T Cell Therapy, DKFZ

In this project tumor antigen-specific T cell receptors for adoptive T cell therapy in patients with brain metastases will be identified by utilizing a novel high-throughput ptofluidic platform.

Detailed description

• Sebastian Schölch, DKFZ-Hector Junior Clinical Cooperation Unit Translational Surgical Oncology, UMM
• Andreas Trumpp, Stem Cells and Cancer, DKFZ

Aim of the project is to study neuronal changes in human prevertebral ganglia by analyzing surgical pancreatic adenocarcinoma specimens and map the rewiring of neuronal programs in neurons infiltrating liver and lung metastasis of pancreatic tumor and colorectal cancer mouse models using the newly developed Trac’n’Seq method to target cancer-induced neuronal reprogramming with precision medicine.

Detailed description

• Matthias Ebert, II. Medical Clinic, UMM
• Eran Elinav, Microbiome and Cancer, DKFZ

This project will serve to set up the clinical trial and assess the feasibility of the translational research program for the VITAL pilot study with Atezolizumab and Bevazicumab in hepatocellular carcinoma in combination with autologous fecal microbiota transplantation in responders at the time of progressive disease.

Detailed description


Seed Funding Program 2023

The project applications submitted in response to the second call for proposals in 2023 are currently being reviewed externally. Start of the selected projects is planned in January 2024.


  • Matthias Schewe, Stem cells and their niche, UMM
  • Jens Puschhof, Microbiome and Cancer, DKFZ

The goal of the project is to investigate cell plasticity and the role of the microbiome in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) using patient-derived organoids aiming to uncover novel mechanisms by which bacteria induce cell plasticity and develop innovative therapeutic strategies to prevent colorectal cancer (CRC).

Detailed descripton

  • Chin Leng Tan, Neuroimmunology and Brain Tumor Immunology, DKFZ 

Aim of the project it to show feasibility of generating experimentally validated, patient-specific T cell receptors (TCR) for personalized medicine within a two week timespan by combining three establish platforms: machine learning guided selection of TCRs, rapid semi-automated TCR manufacture, and individualized patient-derived tumor organoids for TCR testing.

Detailed description

  • Iris Mildenberger, Neuroonkologische Klinik, UMM
  • Sonja Loges, DKFZ Hector Division Personalized Oncology, UMM

The overall goal of the project is to determine the role of myeloid MHCII activated CD4 T cells in antitumor immune response in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) brain metastasis and elucidate gender disparity in those CD4 T cell driven immune responses.

  • Maria José Besso, Radioonkologie / Radiobiologie, DKFZ

Aims is to characterize tumor hypoxia, a lack of oxygen in tumor tissues that plays a critical role in patient outcome. The combination of novel oxygen sensors, multiomics and live cell hypoxia/clinical imaging will be used to take next steps in unraveling hypoxic niches and elucidating their impact in cancer patient prognosis/ therapy and to provide a base for specific treatments.

Detailed description

  • Sebastian Schölch, DKFZ Hector Junior Clinical Cooperation Unit Translational Surgical Oncology, UMM
  • Andreas Trumpp, Stem Cells and Cancer, DKFZ

This project aims to establish a minimally invasive rapid autopsy program, obtaining ultrasound-guided core biopsies from multiple tumor sites of recently deceased cancer patients, thus generating a living organoid biobank enabling investigations in differential treatment response and clonal evolution in latestage cancer.

  • Megha Bhardwaj, Clinical Epidemiology and Aging Research, DKFZ

The longstanding objective of this research project is development of a blood-based laboratory assay for detecting early stage colorectal cancers. For efficient clinical application of the biomarkers as cost effective screening test, the protein biomarker signatures for the stage-specific detection of colorectal cancers will be identified, evaluated, and validated in the Danish Endoscopy III screening cohort.

Detailed description

  • Sebastian Belle, II. Department of Medicine, UMM
  • Karol Nowicki-Osuch, DKFZ-Hector Junior Research Group Tumorigenesis and molecular cancer prevention

The study aims to validate the applicability of mutREAD technology in combination with machine-learning-aided biopsy collection as a tool for predicting the risk of progression of oesophageal intestinal metaplasia (Barrett’s Oesophagus) to adenocarcinoma and aiding in dysplasia diagnosis.

Detailed description

  • Constantin Dreher, Radiation Oncology, UMM

Project goal is to develop a multiparametric monitoring approach to implement response guidance in personalized, adaptive radiotherapy.

Detailed description

  • Sebastian Schölch, DKFZ Hector Junior Clinical Cooperation Unit Translational Surgical Oncology, UMM
  • Almut Schulze, Tumour Metabolism and Microenvironment, DKFZ

Project aim is to investigate alterations in lipid metabolism induced by loss of SMAD4 and to explore the non-canonical mechanisms underlying SMAD4-mediated colorectl cancer progression.

Detailed description

  • Jens Jakob / Melissa Harbrücker, Sarcoma Surgery, UMM
  • Stefan Fröhling, Translational Medical Oncology, DKFZ

Previous cancer interventions and cellular and molecular features of entire tumor ecosystems in patients with radiation-induced angiosarcomas will be analyzed. The underlying pathogenetic mechanisms are to be better understood to develop improved multimodal treatment approaches informed by insights into radiation-induced angiosarcomas biology.

Detailed description

  • Malin Nientiedt, Urology, UMM
  • Frank Lyko, Epigenetics, DKFZ

Overall project goal is to use GLORI, a newly published base-resolution protocol for profiling the mRNA modification N6-methyladenosine, to define and characterize tumor-associated epitranscriptomic changes in urothelial carcinoma of the bladder.

Detailed description

Seed Funding Program 2024

The third call for proposals of the DKFZ Hector Seed Funding Program was announced in May.

Eligible are (associated) members (and their staff) of the DKFZ Hector Cancer Institute at UMM (employment contract with the UMM or the DKFZ) and faculty of the DKFZ (and their staff).