It is with great sadness that we learn of the decease of Prof. Dr. h.c. mult. Max L. Birnstiel, of Wollerau, Switzerland. Max Birnstiel was the founding director of the Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna and can be held responsible for kicking off the renaissance of the life sciences in Austria in the last 25 years. As a mentor of the CeMM director Giulio Superti-Furga, who in the late eighties had followed him as a PhD student together with his PhD supervisor Meinrad Busslinger, from Zurich to Vienna, Max Birnstiel provided important advice for the making and leadership of CeMM. Max Birnstiel will long remain a towering figure in molecular biology. Trained at the ETH in Switzerland with Frey-Wissling, he moved to Caltech to work with James Bonner. In 1966, together with his wife Margaret Chipchase, he first purified ribosomal RNA genes from vertebrates. He moved to Edinburgh where he physically isolated the histone genes of the sea urchin, before the invention of molecular cloning. Ernst Hadorn called him to the University of Zurich where for 15 years he led a world-renowned research program that determined gene-regulatory processes of eukaryotes. He was recruited by Boehringer Ingelheim and Genentech to conceive and lead the new IMP in Vienna, as a rather risky and innovative experiment, recruiting internationally and fostering world-class basic research in molecular biology in an environment that initially was a waste-land. He insisted on having the biochemical institutes of Vienna University to settle next to the IMP, to create the nucleus of the Vienna Biocenter. During his period as head of the IMP, he founded Intercell, a successful pioneering biotechnology company that helped put Vienna on the world map of research and business excellence in the life sciences. In his life, Max Birnstiel has earned numerous awards, prizes and honorary doctorates. He was a member of numerous academies, including the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the United States Academy of Sciences, as a foreign associate. In recognition of his pioneering work and immense contributions, the Austrian community of life scientists gave him the Achievement Award Medal during the EMBanniversary meeting in July 2014. In no possible way can the importance of Max L. Birnstiel for the life sciences in general, and for the Austrian molecular biology, be overstated. He will be dearly missed.
It is our great pleasure to congratulate the Medical University of Vienna on their 10 year anniversary! The Medical University of Vienna is one of our key research partners and plays a major role in the education and scientific development of CeMM’s PhD students, and postdoctoral fellows. We truly value the strong collaborative relationship with our neighbours, and we would like to thank the rectorate, our collaborators and the administrative staff of the Medical University of Vienna for their cooperation. Several members of CeMM Faculty are also affiliated with the Medical University and thus represent a successful “marriage” of ideas and objectives. In recent years we have published a number of co-authored papers in top journals and have shared some very promising research results. We are looking forward to continuing this successful relationship on many more collaborative projects to come.
Giulio Superti-Furga, Director CeMM
The 4th Vienna Next Generation Sequencing Symposium & Workshop brought together over 150 current and future users of next generation sequencing technology. Six invited speakers described exciting applications of NGS technology in basic biology and in biomedical research. And the keynote speaker Bart Deplancke (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, EPFL) presented a biologically interesting and methodologically advanced study on the massive-scale characterization of the genome regulatory code in Drosophila. The meeting was organized by Christoph Bock (Coordinator of the BSF Biomedical Sequencing Facility of CeMM and MedUni Vienna) and Andreas Sommer (Coordinator of the CSF NGS unit at the Vienna Biocenter), who also gave an overview of the technological support and opportunities for collaboration that are available to researchers in Vienna, Austria and beyond. The symposium was followed by an interactive workshop that allowed all participants to go into further detail and to discuss practical approaches and challenges of using NGS technology in their research. The success story of the Vienna NGS Symposium & Workshop will continue with 5th event in winter 2015/2016.
Giulio Superti-Furga, Scientific Director and Kilian Huber, Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, have been selected as winners of GlaxoSmithKline plc’s (GSK) 2014 European Discovery Fast Track Challenge, which is designed to accelerate the translation of academic research into novel therapies. CeMM will partner with scientists in GSK’s Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) and Molecular Discovery Research (MDR) teams to screen the target against GSK’s compound collection. Active compounds could then form the basis of full drug discovery programmes that may ultimately lead to innovative medicines for cancer.
The project is one of nine challenge winners, chosen from 232 entries across 24 European countries. Research between CeMM and GSK will focus on a new drug which prevents tumour growth by inhibiting the nucleotide pool sanitizing enzyme MTH1.
"We are very happy to see our studies carried on in the fast track programme together with GSK. It is really a rare stroke of luck that in our underlying studies we have not only found a previously unknown sore spot of aggressive cancers, but that by chance we simultaneously identified a chemical substance that is a mirror image of one of the best new anticancer agents in the clinic."
Launched in the U.K. in late 2010, DPAc is a new approach to drug discovery that enables academics to marry their scientific excellence with the drug discovery insight of GSK. For projects that progress to full DPAc programmes, GSK and the academic partner share the risk and reward of innovation; GSK funds activities in the partner laboratories and provides in-kind resources to progress a programme from idea to candidate medicine. Currently GSK has ten active DPAc collaborations in ten disease areas, of which six are with academics based in European institutes.
CeMM Scientific Director Giulio Superti-Furga was recently elected member of the Academia Europaea – the Academy of Europe. The election followed a recommendation of the Academic Sections and a peer review by the Nominations Committee of the academy.
The Academia Europaea is a registered not-for-profit charity founded in 1988 as an international, nongovernmental association of eminent, individual scientists and scholars from across the continent of Europe who are experts and leaders in their own subject areas as recognized by their peers. Currently 3000 academy members span the full range of academic disciplines comprising the humanities, social, physical and life sciences as well as mathematics, engineering and medicine.
The appointment represents an honor recognizing Prof. Superti-Furga’s international scholarship and major achievements, including the elucidation of basic regulatory mechanisms of tyrosine kinases in human cancers, the discovery of fundamental organization principles of the proteome of higher organisms and the development of integrated approaches to understand the mechanism of action of drugs at the molecular level. CeMM congratulates him on this distinguished achievement.
Congenital immunodeficiencies comprise a group of disorders characterized by an abnormal immune system. The body’s ability to fight infections is impaired and infections can have life-threatening consequences for those affected. Analysis of patients with a disease characterized by an inherited lack of neutrophil granulocytes termed severe congenital neutropenia (SCN) may shed light on the delicate balance of factors controlling differentiation, maintenance, and decay of neutrophils. The team of CeMM Principal Investigator Kaan Boztug in collaboration with the group of Christoph Klein, Director of the Dr. Von Hauner Children’s Hospital Munich, identified mutations in the gene JAGN1 as a novel subtype of SCN in 14 patients bearing 9 distinct JAGN1 mutations. JAGN1 deficiency accounts for approximately 10% SCN for which the underlying genetic defect had previously been unknown. The researchers could show that JAGN1 mutations lead to aberrant function of the endoplasmic reticulum, defective protein glycosylation and increased neutrophil apoptosis. SCN patients are usually treated with the cytokine G-CSF, however for JAGN1-deficient patients the treatment response was unsatisfactory. In a second study IMBA Director Josef Penninger and his team generated Jagn1 knock-out mice and could show that GM-CSF, but not G-CSF, treatment rescues the defects of JAGN1-deficient neutrophils in mice.
Kaan Boztug, first author of one of the studies, identified the first patients with JAGN1 mutations: “The discovery of the JAGN1 deficiency illustrates that inborn errors of immunity can be caused by mutations in genes that were previously not even known to play a role in the immune system. It would be a wonderful result of this CeMM-IMBA-Munich collaboration if treatment with GM-CSF also works for human patients – this will now be assessed in further clinical studies. This is also a perfect example that not only new drugs lead to better therapies. An enhanced molecular understanding of diseases may enable targeted use of existing drugs and can thus fulfill the promise of patient-oriented medicine."
The findings of both studies have been published on August 17, 2014, in the journal Nature Genetics:
Boztug, K. et al. JAGN1 deficiency causes aberrant myeloid cell homeostasis and congenital neutropenia. Nat Genet. (2014).
Wirnsberger, G. et al. Jagunal-homolog 1 is a critical regulator of neutrophil function in fungal host defense. Nat Genet. (2014).
Genetic requirement for drug action is important to study as it may reveal mechanism of drug resistance, particularly in cancer, as well as generate ideas for better, safer and more personalized drugs. The laboratory of CeMM Director Giulio Superti-Furga used a genetic screen with human haploid cells, based on the work of Thijn Brummelkamp and his team (NKI and CeMM Adjunct PI), to identify the genes affecting the action of a poorly understood cancer drug under clinical evaluation. Surprisingly, only one gene turned out to lead to resistance, the uncharacterized member of the solute carrier SLC35F2. Further studies showed that whether this cancer drug works or not is entirely dependent on the presence of this transporter. In fact, there is a strong correlation between the levels of expression of the transporter and sensitivity to the drug. If the door is open, the drug will go through and kill the cell.
The findings have been published advanced online in the journal Nature Chemical Biology: The solute carrier SLC35F2 enables YM155-mediated DNA damage toxicity. Georg E Winter, Branka Radic, Cristina Mayor-Ruiz, Vincent A Blomen, Claudia Trefzer, Richard K Kandasamy, Kilian V M Huber, Manuela Gridling, Doris Chen, Thorsten Klampfl, Robert Kralovics, Stefan Kubicek, Oscar Fernandez-Capetillo, Thijn R Brummelkamp, Giulio Superti-Furga. Nature Chemical Biology. doi:10.1038/nchembio.1590.
SLC are the neglected gates that regulate access to biological systems to chemistry, or of organisms to the environment. CeMM is dedicated to mount a large interdisciplinary effort involving several laboratories to try to crack the “code” of the transport and regulation specificity. This will take several years but will allow to have better targeted drugs, that are safer because they know where they go, and to understand the relationship between drugs and nutrition.
On Friday, July 25, the new research report was presented to a selected audience on the CeMM terrace.
The concept of the current report is a wonderful example of our dialogue with society. Our befriended artist, Dorothee Golz, approached us with the idea of having a geneticist collaborate with her to unravel the traits in a particular branch of the body of her oeuvre that allows for a proper “genealogy”. What ensued is presented in this report and represents what we believe may be a first-ever formal quantitative representation of the relationship among the works of an artist. The concept can be expanded to describe also other artistic and scientific output.
To request a hardcopy please send a message to office(at)cemm.oeaw.ac(dot)at
We are looking for MD and/or PhD scientists either at their first independent appointment or already at the consolidation stage to apply their expertise close to a clinical setting in a stimulating research environment.
Are you full of ideas and impatient for action to translate the opportunities of the genomic age into better therapeutics and diagnostics? Do you have a truly collaborative mindset and enjoy teamwork across disciplines? Do you have an inclusive and open personality that cherishes being a scientist within a broader cultural and social context?
CeMM, the Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, is one of the best places you should consider to advance your basic, medical-oriented research.
With great pleasure we announce that Denise Barlow, Principal Investigator at CeMM and Honorary Professor of Genetics at the University of Vienna, has received the Erwin Schrödinger Prize 2014 for lifetime achievements. The Erwin Schrödinger Prize is an annual award presented by the Austrian Academy of Sciences for lifetime achievement in the fields of mathematics and natural sciences. This prize is the most prestigious award of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and was established in 1958.
This recognition is very well-deserved. Denise Barlow's contributions to the field of mammalian genetics as well as to Austrian research are exceptional. She is a world-leading expert in epigenetic mechanisms operating in development and disease. We congratulate Denise!
In 1991, the Barlow group discovered the first mammalian imprinted gene (Igf2r) and since then, has uncovered many details of the imprinting mechanism and promoted its use as an epigenetic gene-regulatory model. Her laboratory has shown that an unusual and very long non-coding RNA (lncRNA), a macro ncRNA, induces imprinted gene expression. More recently, her laboratory has also shown that transcription, independent of the lncRNA product, is the mechanisms that silences the Igf2r gene. The focus of her work currently is to understand the epigenetic processes by which these unusual macro-ncRNAs induce gene silencing in imprinted clusters and in the wider mouse and human genomes.