From the eyes to the brain and all the way down to the toes: our bodies are packed with nerve cells. They decide how we perceive the world and control our responses. But how do nerve cells know in which direction they are supposed to extend and which cells they should connect with? And what can influence or disrupt the functioning of these nerve cells – and thus, in the worst case, trigger disease? This is the field in which Kristian Franze has broken new ground. He has shown that nerve cells are not only crucially influenced by chemical signals, which has long been known, but also by mechanical forces. Tissue stiffness, for example, plays an important role in nerve functioning and development and may, moreover, change after injury. Understanding these processes better could help to stimulate nerve cell growth through previously destroyed tissue and thus, perhaps one day, even lead to therapies for paraplegia.
Kristian Franze is an eminent scientist who investigates the impact of the mechanical environment on the nervous system; he has had a seminal influence on this growing research field. At FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg he is now expected to introduce physical concepts into medical research, creating a unique interdisciplinary centre combining both research fields. As a Humboldt Professor, Franze will become the Director of the Institute for Medical Physics and Micro Tissue Technology. He will also join the executive board of the Max-Planck-Zentrum für Physik und Medizin (MPZPM), a joint institute founded by FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light and the Universitätsklinikum Erlangen.
Nominating University: FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg
Dr. Kristian Franze
Born in Germany, Kristian Franze has been a reader at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, since 2017. After graduating in veterinary medicine at the University of Leipzig, where he completed a doctorate in the Department of Physics in 2007, a Humboldt Foundation Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship took him to the University of Cambridge as a postdoc. He subsequently worked at the University of Leipzig before relocating to Cambridge in 2011 to continue his academic career as a lecturer. He has received numerous international honours for his research, including an ERC Consolidator Grant in 2018.