The Heidelberg scientists Dr. Anton Meinhart and Prof. Michael Platten will receive the Chica and Heinz Schaller Research Award for their pioneering work in biomedical basic research which the C.H.S.-Foundation will grant the two award winners for the year 2011. The prizes include research funding of €100,000 each. The award for Dr. Meinhart, who leads a junior group at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research (Heidelberg) and researches in the Cluster of Excellence CellNetworks of Heidelberg University, pays tribute to his innovative research on the role of programmed cell death in bacteria. Prof. Platten, who works at the Heidelberg University Hospital and at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), is being honored for his ground-breaking studies as to the significance of tryptophan metabolism for the growth of malignant brain tumors. The award ceremony will take place on February 6, 2012.
Anton Meinhart (born 1974) studied at the University of Vienna (Austria) and the University of Cologne. He received his PhD in biochemistry after a three-year research residency at Freie Universität Berlin in 2001. After a postdoctoral period at the Gene Center in Munich, Dr. Meinhart came to the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in 2004 where he leads a junior group in the Department of Biomolecular Mechanisms.
Dr. Meinhart’s research interest lies in the significance of the programmed cell death of bacteria for the virulence of pathogenic microorganisms and its role on receipt of antibiotic resistance. This cell death is controlled by bacterial toxin-antitoxin systems. As the scientist himself explains, spontaneously released toxin poisons the bacterium from the inside if the latter does not produce a specific toxin-neutralizing antitoxin anymore. Dr. Meinhart’s working group is engaged in the investigation of this poisoning mechanism in various pathogens. They have shown that a wide-spread toxin-antitoxin system in pathogenic microorganisms directly intervenes in the synthesis of the bacterial cell wall and converts its central component – UDP-N-acetylglucosamine – into a previously unknown, universal poison for bacteria. This research opens up new possibilities in the investigation of the significance of toxin-antitoxin systems for programmed “bacterial suicide” and its function in groups of bacteria. In addition, they develop new foundations for the development of innovative antibiotics.
Michael Platten (born 1971) studied medicine at the University of Bonn with residencies at the Harvard Medical School in Boston (USA) and the Royal London Hospital (England); in 1998 he received his PhD in Bonn. He then went to the University of Tübingen for his habilitation in 2006. Since 2007 the expert has led a Helmholtz University young investigator's group at the German Cancer Research Center in the area of “experimental neuroimmunology”. He was appointed an initial professorship at the Medical Faculty of Heidelberg of Heidelberg University.
The working group of Prof. Platten has discovered a new metabolic pathway that has an effect on the aggressiveness of malignant brain tumors – so-called gliomas. Prof. Platten’s team has shown that a specific degradation product of the amino acid tryptophan, as well as an enzyme that is responsible for the formation of the product, are found to a greater extent in cells of especially aggressive gliomas. By means of so-called dioxin receptors, this metabolite triggers cellular signal chains that promote the growth of tumors and weaken the patient’s immune system. According to Prof. Platten, there are indications that the tryptophan metabolic pathway is significant for other types of cancer. His work defines a new point of attack in the fight against gliomas that are difficult to treat and serves as a basis for the development of innovative cancer drugs.
The C.H.S.-Foundation was established in 2000 by scientists Chica and Heinz Schaller. They promoted biomedical basic research at Heidelberg University by financing innovative research projects. By awarding flexible funds, they especially support junior researchers in carrying out independent projects. The research award, which has been annually awarded since 2005, is an essential tool to this end. The Chica and Heinz Schaller Research Awards 2011 will be conferred at a public celebratory event on 6 February. It will take place at the Zentrum für Molekulare Biologie (Center for Molecular Biology), Im Neuenheimer Feld 282, seminar room 001 and will begin at 4pm. All those interested are welcome to attend; the prizewinners will present their work in English.
Dr. Barbara Mueller,
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