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When clinicians and researchers look outside the box

What does the immune system have to do with blood pressure, and what does the hypertension enzyme ACE have to do with the immune system and cancer? These are questions researchers and clinicians from various disciplines will discuss at the 1st ECRC Franz Volhard Symposium in the Max Delbrck Communications Center (MDC.C) in Berlin-Buch on September 7-8, 2012. The dinner speaker will be Professor Francis Schwarze, a materials scientist at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) in St. Gallen, Switzerland). He has developed a method that makes a new violin sound almost like a Stradivarius.

Professor Annette Grters-Kieslich, dean of the Charit Universittsmedizin Berlin, highlighted the importance of linking basic research with clinical research at the beginning of the symposium. "The aim of this close collaboration is to provide a fast track for using the insights gained from basic research for diagnosis and therapy in patients."

"Interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers and clinicians has been the guiding principle of the Max Delbrck Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch since its founding 20 years ago," said Professor Walter Rosenthal, chairman of the board of directors and scientific director of the MDC. He also stressed the importance of the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC) for clinical research. The MDC and Charit Universittsmedizin have operated the ECRC jointly on Campus Berlin-Buch since 2007, and each contributes six million euros annually to fund the ECRC. Remarking on the planned closer institutional links between the MDC and the Charit, Professor Grters-Kieslich and Professor Rosenthal added, "We want to continue to expand in the future what we have successfully begun here on a small scale."

The organizers of the symposium, Professor Friedrich Luft, director of the ECRC, and Professor Dominik Mller (ECRC) seek to demonstrate that researchers and clinicians can gain surprising new insights, e.g. into the pathogenesis of serious diseases, when they look outside the box of their own fields. Current research has shown that the immune system is not only responsible for the defense against diseases, but can also affect the body's salt and fluid balance as well as blood pressure. A report on this topic will be given by Professor Jens Titze (University of Vanderbilt, Nashville, Tennessee, USA and the University of Erlangen), one of the leading experts in this field, at the Berlin symposium.

Professor Ken Bernstein (Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California, USA) will present new insights on an enzyme (ACE, angiotensin converting enzyme), which among other functions also regulates the fluid balance of the body. New findings suggest that ACE also affects the immune system and helps inhibit the growth of tumors.

Another focus of the symposium will be on a group of factors (VEGF, vascular endothelial growth factor), which the body produces to regulate the growth of blood and lymphatic vessels. But also some tumors produce VEGF to secure their blood supply. One approach to tumor therapy is thus to block VEGF, an approach which is partly based on the research of Professor Kari Alitalo (Biomedicum Helsinki, Finland). However, the inhibition of VEGF triggers high blood pressure. Professor Alitalo will give an overview of the numerous application fields of growth factors in cardiovascular and cancer research.

A subset of these growth factors also plays an important role in high blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia), one of the most dangerous complications for mother and child. A lecture on this disease, which is very difficult to treat with drugs, will be given by Professor Ananth Karumanchi (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center & Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA), who discovered the importance of growth factors for preeclampsia.

In his lecture at the symposium, the immunologist and Nobel laureate Professor Zinkernagel (University of Zurich, Switzerland) will give an overview of the immune system. According to his opinion, "immunological memory" plays a rather subordinate role in the protection against disease, because its development is too slow and too ineffective. Instead, the immune system must always be confronted anew with the respective pathogens to preserve a sufficient amount of antibodies and pre-activated T cells. In his view, this understanding is important to be able to maintain protective immunity in the population against old and newly occurring infectious diseases.

The two-day symposium brings together approximately 220 participants from the U.S., Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. It is named after Franz Volhard (1872 1950), a German specialist in internal medicine who founded nephrology as an independent discipline. His research focused on renal function, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. He was the first scientist to recognize that kidney disease can lead to high blood pressure. His research is considered groundbreaking, and many of his findings are still valid today.


Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres

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