Bild: M. Rabenstein, Universitätsklinikum Erlangen

PD Dr. rer. nat. Dr. habil. med. Andrea Thoma-Kress

Andrea studied Molecular Medicine at FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg and did her PhD with Prof. Ralph Grassmann and Prof. Bernhard Fleckenstein at the Institute of Virology. She has always been fascinated by viruses and cancer; therefore, she decided to study Human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1), a highly oncogenic human tumor virus. Andrea's major research interests are transmission of HTLV-1, cell-cell communication, and oncogenic signaling. 

Andrea is European Representative of the International Retrovirology Association. 



Dr. rer. nat. Alexandra Birzer

I finished my PhD thesis in 2021 and started my Post-Doc in the Thoma-Kreß lab after parental leave to support the MILK-TV project. My aim is to identify the infection route of HTLV-1 from mother to child via breastfeeding. In more detail, I focus on the mechanism and the cell type upon HTLV-1-transmission via breast milk. I am happy to be part of this brilliant project.

PhD Students

Stefanie Heym

HTLV-1 can be transmitted from mother to child during breastfeeding, and such an early infection drastically increases the risk of developing an HTLV-associated, fatal disease. I am interested in unraveling the impact of breast milk on mother-to-child transmission, identifying compounds in the human milk that could possibly inhibit the infection of the newborn. 


Abarna Baheerathan

The aim of my project is to elucidate the protein complex that guides HTLV-1-transcription and to interfere with this complex to enhance viral transcription. Enhanced viral gene expression should then expose the viral reservoir to immune destruction


Florian Simon

After several decades of latency, HTLV-1 reactivation is associated with Adult T-cell Leukemia/ Lymphoma (ATLL) and inflammatory diseases in infected patients. The accessory protein p8 is a cleavage product of its precursor protein p12 and has been shown to be essential for viral persistence and infectivity. To date, the host factors facilitating p12 to p8 processing remain unknown. Therefore, I aim to identify the cryptic host factors processing p12 to interfere with persistence of HTLV-1. Additionally, I am exploring the functions of p8.

Laura Kemeter

I am part of the Milk Transmission of Viruses project, funded by the BMBF. During my PhD I will develop prevention strategies for milk-borne HTLV-1 transmission by development of HTLV-1 specific neutralizing nanobodies and use of antiretrovirals. 


Franziska Wittdorf

PhD student


Annika Schnell

MD student

In the course of my medical doctorate, I am systematically comparing different compounds and their impact on HTLV-1 transcription. The overarching goal of manipulating HTLV-1 gene expression is to enhance the immunogenicity of HTLV-1 and thereby expose the latent reservoir of infected cells to the host’s immune response. 


Louisa Rasp

MD student

Peter Wientjes

MD student

Lab Technicians 

Norbert Donhauser

I am the medical-technical laboratory assistant in the working group and responsible for keeping the laboratory running. I supervise students in various internships and am involved in numerous projects, including the MILK-TV project, which is funded by the BMBF.

Melissa Kießling

I am a biological-technical laboratory assistant in the working group and work in the MILK-TV project, which is funded by the BMBF.