The 8th CeMM Karl Landsteiner Lecture at the beautifully frescoed Festive Hall of the Austrian Academy of Sciences was delivered by Prof. David M. Sabatini of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). More than 350 scientists and interested lay people from all walks of society attended the lecture, which was opened by CeMM’s Scientific Director Prof. Giulio Superti-Furga, who acknowledged Prof. Sabatini’s distinguished achievements and leading contribution to molecular biology. Gustav Ammerer, a Viennese biotech pioneer, research group leader at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories (MFPL) of the University of Vienna and accomplished amateur cello player provided a smooth start of the evening with his interpretations of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite No.1 in G major (BWV 1007), Allemande & Sarabande. David M. Sabatini continued the series of world-leading distinguished scientists of CeMM Karl Landsteiner lecturers that started in 2007. Prof. Sabatini, MD, PhD, recipient of the 2014 National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology, is the leading investigator on what can be considered probably the most “critical” biological process, the regulation of cellular growth and metabolic state, and its master regulator protein “mTOR” with its essential role in cellular decision making. In his talk “Grow – Shrink, Get Fat – Stay Lean, Divide – Rest: How Cells Decide” Prof. Sabatini outlined the fundamental and intriguing processes surrounding the mTOR protein that cells use to integrate internal and environmental cues such as nutrient availability to rationalize cellular decision making such as proliferation or differentiation. In his presentation he also introduced some of his latest research findings and discussed challenging open questions. The lecture was very well perceived as evidenced by a lively podium discussion and rounded up by a cocktail reception in the academy’s aula. We are grateful to Prof. Sabatini for his fascinating presentation.
Mutations of CALR have been discovered recently in an estimated 15% of cases of myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs - a group of blood disorders involving overproduction of blood cells) by the research team of Robert Kralovics at CeMM and collaboration partners at the Medical University of Vienna (NEJM doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1311347). QIAGEN now licensed the technology from CeMM, and will develop a reliable diagnostic test for the CALR mutations offering each patient a clearer prognostic profile and guiding disease management. Development of a CALR diagnostic test will be highly complementary to QIAGEN’s kits for a key mutation of the Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) gene.
Lange Nacht der Forschung (Long Night of Science) 2014
(Vienna, 4 April 2014) Counting more than 135.000 visitors of all ages the ‘Lange Nacht der Forschung’ (Long Night of Science) 2014, a joint initiative of the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy (BMWFW) and the Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT), took place on Friday 4th April, at several locations throughout Austria. CeMM´s booth at the Aula der Wissenschaften in Vienna’s first district with about 3.200 visitors was a significant success. CeMM was represented with an information stand that also included a ‘hands-on’ science parcours with stations that allowed visitors to extract DNA from strawberries, learn how to build a DNA double helix with gummi bears and toothpicks, a pipetting competition and a microscopy station. The CeMM Management and CeMM scientists, among them Principal Investigators Joanna Loizou, Andreas Bergthaler, Kaan Boztug and Christoph Bock were present on site and excited by the overwhelming interest. “The last teenagers, who still wanted to look through the microscope, literally had to be politely rejected at 10 past midnight – what a night, what a sight!”, Bergthaler summed up. Last but not least the good news of the evening rounded up the successful event, when the Federal Minister for Science, Research and Economy, Reinhold Mitterlehner, announced that basic science in Austria is not threatened by budget cuts.
New drug prevents tumour growth by inhibiting the nucleotide sanitizing enzyme MTH1
(Vienna, 2 April 2014) A ground-breaking study spearheaded by Scientific Director Giulio Superti-Furga at the CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences shows that fast-growing cancer cells are sensitive towards imbalances in the metabolism of nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA. This vulnerability can be exploited for a radically novel antitumour therapeutic approach. Not only did the researchers from Vienna, in a joint effort with colleagues from Oxford and Stockholm, identify the enzyme MTH1 as an Achilles heel of malignant tumour cells, but also, in a wonderful twist of fate, they discovered the chemical mirror image of an existing anti-cancer drug called crizotinib to be an efficient inhibitor of MTH1 activity. The study was published in advance online by the renowned scientific journal Nature on 2nd April 2014. (read more)
Herbert Gottweis, Professor at the University of Vienna and former Vice President of the Austrian Science Fund died prematurely on Monday, March 31, at the age of 56. We express our deepest condolences to his family and colleagues. We thank Herbert Gottweis for his professional and collegial support, and the great conversations we were privileged to hold on policy studies, the understanding of biomedical and healthcare transformation, and creativity in science. We will always remember his participation at the CeMM Retreat in 2012.
Prof. Gian Domenico Borasio, M.D, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois and University of Lausanne, gave the 3rd SMART lecture, on March 28th, 2014 at CeMM. Numerous scientists, clinicians and interested lay people witnessed a fascinating and thought-provoking lecture on “Empathy and Evidence – The Scientific Foundations of Palliative Medicine” followed by a lively forum discussion. Dr. Borasio, who is a leader in the science and implementation of modern palliative medicine started his talk by acknowledging the pioneering work of Dame Cicely Saunders followed by a detailed discussion of fundamental questions and concepts of ‘quality of life’ and ‘personal values’ and concluded with an outlook on the many barriers that still need to be overcome towards a general implementation of a palliative approach for a more sustainable healthcare system of the future. We thank Gian Domenico Borasio for his inspiring presentation.
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On March 7th 2014 more than 90 researchers interested in using and developing small molecules as biological probes and potential new drugs met at CeMM for the 4th Austrodrugs meeting organized by Stefan Kubicek and Giulio Superti-Furga. In a “scientific speed dating” 19 chemical biologists from academia and industry gave short 10-minute presentations. The well-balanced mix of speakers from different scientific backgrounds covered topics such as drug discovery, using and developing chemical probes to understand the biology of diseases, as well as virtual screening and modeling as a means of revealing drug interactions and drug targets. The keynote lecture given by Prof. Andrew Hopkins (University of Dundee), undeniably one of the leading experts in the field of developing novel informatics and experimental methods to enable more effective ways of drug discovery, topped off the successful 4th gathering of the Austrodrugs community. In his lecture “Big Data meets Darwin: the future of drug design” Prof. Hopkins presented his latest research and bold approaches for fully automated design and synthesis of novel lead molecules. The following reception allowed an informal discussion about opportunities for future collaborations and strengthened the interaction of academic and industrial drug discovery. The success story will be continued: The 5th Austrodrugs anniversary will take place in March 2015.
On February 28, 2014 the opening symposium of the Vienna Center for Rare and Undiagnosed Diseases (CeRUD) took place at the Jugendstil lecture hall of the Medical University of Vienna under the auspices of the Rector of the Medical University of Vienna, Wolfgang Schütz and the founding members, Arnold Pollak, Head of the University Hospital for Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Hubert Pehamberger, Head of the University Hospital for Dermatology, Georg Stingl, Head the Clinical Department of Immunodermatology and Infectious Skin Diseases, and Giulio Superti-Furga, Scientific Director of the CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The symposium was organized by Kaan Boztug, Principal Investigator at CeMM, and Assistant Professor, Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and Director of CeRUD.
The Vienna Center for Rare and Undiagnosed Diseases has been established recently to pool resources and competencies in order to provide the affected individuals with the best possible interdisciplinary diagnostic analysis and care. This includes interdisciplinary clinical care involving many disciplines that are represented at the Medical Campus AKH Vienna and at the Medical University of Vienna. At the same time, CeRUD is involved in various internationally competitive research activities in order to promote the development of new strategies for diagnosis and treatment of these diseases.
A newly identified mutation fills the gap in the molecular pathogenesis of MPN and brings hope to many MPN patients: To date a recently identified mutation in the gene called Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) MPN could be held responsible for MPN in 3/4 of the patients. The remaining patients however did not benefit from this discovery as their MPN was not caused by JAK2 mutations. The research group of Robert Kralovics at CeMM in collaboration with Heinz Gisslinger´s group at the Medical University of Vienna now succeeded in the discovery of a new mutation in the gene encoding calreticulin (CALR). This discovery explains about 75 % of the cases for which the reason was unknown so far. It comes to the benefit of millions of patients worldwide as a molecular diagnostic test was made available immediately. The findings have been published advanced online in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and was being discussed at the Annual Meeting of American Society of Hematology (ASH). The study has been supported by grants from the MPN Research Foundation and the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
The results reported in NEJM were presented and discussed with the press in Vienna, on December 13 by Giulio Superti-Furga, Scientific Director of CeMM, Markus Müller, Vice Rector of the Medical University of Vienna, Robert Kralovics, Principal Investigator at CeMM and project leader of the research study, and co-author Heinz Gisslinger of the Medical University of Vienna.