Stock Photo newspapers

Rome’s Sapienza University Awards Honorary PhD to MDC Researcher Nikolaus Rajewsky

Performed Piano Concert at Award Ceremony

Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) was awarded an honorary PhD in human biology and medical genetics by Sapienza University of Rome on June 11, 2014. The award was given in recognition of his achievements in systems biology, in particular for his contributions to elucidate basic mechanisms of gene regulation, and his innovative approaches combining physics, computer science and mathematics with biology. Having graduated in theoretical physics, he developed his outstanding research profile in biomedical research early on in his career.

“I feel sincerely honored and would like to thank all my colleagues and the many scientists involved. I would also like to express my deep gratitude towards my friends and family,” he said. In addition to delivering a lecture at the award ceremony at the Sapienza Aula Magna, Professor Rajewsky, also performed a piano concert. Together with Anna-Carina Jungkamp, he played two suites for two pianos, Op. 5 and Op. 17, by Sergei Rachmaninov.

Nikolaus Rajewsky is professor of systems biology at the MDC and the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. He is the scientific coordinator of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) at the MDC, which he initiated in 2008 with pilot funding of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Senate of Berlin. Systems biology combines molecular biology, biochemistry, computational sciences, mathematics and physics in order to quantitatively capture and predict complex processes of life.

His research activities focus mainly on microRNAs, a group of biomolecules discovered as such only a little more than a decade ago. As he has demonstrated experimentally and with computational methods, microRNAs play an important role in the regulation of gene activity, including genes that are crucial in the development of diseases. He and his team apply highly innovative experimental and computational methods to these fundamental questions. His findings have profoundly changed the understanding of gene regulatory networks and opened up a wide field of research to develop novel therapy approaches.

He studied mathematics and physics at the University of Cologne, Germany from 1988 – 1993, where he earned his PhD in theoretical physics in 1997. He continued as postdoc in the U.S., first at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and later at Rockefeller University in New York. In 2003 he was appointed tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Biology at New York University, a position he held until he moved to Berlin in 2006.

Nikolaus Rajewsky has received numerous awards for his scientific work, among these in 2012 the Leibniz Award, Germany’s most important research award, and in 2010 the Science Prize of the Governing Mayor of Berlin. In 2010 he also became elected member of the European Organization for Molecular Biology (EMBO). In addition, he has held a Global Distinguished Professorship at New York University since 2008 and is scientific advisor for several renowned European research institutions.

Sapienza University is Rome’s oldest university, founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303. It received the name “Sapienza” (i.e. wisdom) in 1660. In 1870, when Italy was united, Sapienza became a public-funded university. The university has a great tradition in the humanities as well as in the life sciences, medicine and physics with Nobel laureates Daniel Bovet, Enrico Fermi, Emilio Segrè, and eminent researchers such as Eduardo Amaldi, and Gianfranco Alpini. Honorary PhDs were awarded to the writers Andrea Camilleri and Miguel Barnet, the linguist and translator Evgenij Michajlovič Solonovič and the politician Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. With more than 125,000 students, among them more than 8,000 foreigners, Sapienza University of Rome is considered to be the largest university in Europe. It ranks among the top five per cent of universities worldwide.

The MDC was founded on Campus Berlin-Buch in 1992. It is named after the physicist, biologist and Nobel laureate (1969) Max Delbrück (1906 Berlin, Germany – 1981 Pasadena, USA), one of the founders of molecular genetics. The MDC is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and receives its funding of approximately 68 million euros a year from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the state of Berlin. In addition, extramural grants acquired by the researchers are in the two-digit million-euro range each year. At present, 65 research teams perform biomedical research at the MDC, including Professor Rajewsky’s group, which utilizes several state-of-the-art technology platforms.


Nikolaus Rajewsky (Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, MDC) with the certificate of the honorary PhD together with Eugenio Gaudio (Dean of the Faculty for Pharmacology and Medicine of Sapienza University), Luigi Frati (President of Sapienza University), and Giuseppe Macino (Director of the Department for Cellular Biotechnology and Hematology of Sapienza University) (from left). (Photo/Copyright: Gabriele Martin)

Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky (Photo: David Ausserhofer/ Copyright: MDC)

Barbara Bachtler
Press Department
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
in the Helmholtz Association
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10
13125 Berlin
Phone: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
Fax:  +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 33