Congratulations to Kaan Boztug (CCRI and LBI-RUD Director, CeMM Adjunct PI and Associate MedUni Wien Professor), Elisabeth Salzer and Bernd Boidol (former CeMM PhD Students) for winning three individual Johann Wilhelm Ritter von Mannagetta Awards!
Kaan received the Mannagetta Medicine Prize as recognition for his research on inherited defects of the immune system, and Lisi and Bernd the Mannagetta Advancement Awards for their excellent publications and PhD studies in the field of medical research.
Salzer E. et al. RASGRP1 deficiency causes immunodeficiency with impaired cytoskeletal dynamics. Nat Immunol. doi: 10.1038/ni.3575.
Boidol B. et al. First-in-human response of BCL-2 inhibitor venetoclax in T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia. Blood. doi: 10.1182/blood-2017-05-785683.
The Mannagetta Prize for Medicine and the Advancement Awards have been awarded for the first time by the Austrian Academy of Sciences in a festive event which took place on March 21 in the Johannessaal of the ÖAW. The awards are named after the physician Johann Wilhelm Ritter von Mannagetta (1588-1666), who served as Rector of the University of Vienna and was personal physician to the Emperor Ferdinand II, Ferdinand III. as well as Leopold I. In 1661 he set up a foundation that exists to this day and supports prizes and scholarships in medicine, in the humanities, and social sciences.
On March 7, the CCRI announced that Kaan Boztug took over his new role as Scientific Director of the Children's Cancer Research Institute.
As physician-scientist and leading expert in primary immunodeficiency and hematological malignancies, Kaan is a perfect choice for the directorship of this renowned research institution in paediatric oncology and we hope that his appointment will further strengthen the links between our organizations. Kaan joined CeMM as Principal Investigator in 2011, and has been pursuing a steep career ever since. Two ERC Grants, several prizes and awards, an impressive publication track record, and successful national and international collaborations prove that Kaan Boztug and his research team embody “precision medicine” at its best.
Dear Kaan, on behalf of your colleagues and friends at CeMM, congratulations to your achievements, and all the best for your future endeavors!
Kaan Boztug studied Medicine in Düsseldorf, Freiburg and London, followed by his graduate training with Iain Campbell at the Scripps Research Institute (La Jolla, USA), and clinical training and postgraduate research with Christoph Klein at Hannover Medical School (Germany). He joined CeMM in 2011 and holds a dual appointment as Associate Professor at the Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna. He is director of the CeRUD Vienna Center for Rare and Undiagnosed Diseases and joint director of the Jeffrey Modell Foundation Center for Immunodeficiencies at the Medical University of Vienna and St. Anna Children’s Hospital. Since 2016, Kaan Boztug is leading the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Rare and Undiagnosed Diseases. CeMM, the Medical University of Vienna, and the Children´s Cancer Research Institute of St. Anna Children’s Hospital are official partners of LBI-RUD.
From February 18-20, 2019, the annual Scientific Recess of CeMM with representatives from each research group and our facilities took place in Waidhofen a.d. Ybbs.
Thank you to the organizers Andreas Villunger and Christoph Binder and to all the participants from CeMM and the Adjunct groups, who contributed with their presentations of new ideas and with lively discussions to a successful meeting.
The overall topic of the 2019 recess was to identify translational opportunities for the next 5 years, agree on emerging topics and themes, and to look for new possibilities for interactions within CeMM.
We thank our special guest Michael Sixt (IST Austria) who not only gave an interesting talk about “Dendritic Cell Migration for Immunity” but also stayed with us for two full days and provided valuable input to project ideas. And we very much appreciated the contribution of Markus Zeitlinger (MedUniVienna) who presented an overview on clinical trial management and was available for an intensive question and answer session.
Congratulations to Nuno Maulide, Professor for Organic Synthesis at the University of Vienna, Corresponding Member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and CeMM Adjunct Principal Investigator, for receiving the Ignaz L. Lieben Award of the Austrian Academy of Sciences! As a scientist with a broadly documented expertise in state-of-the-art innovations in organic synthesis, and a great talent and dedication for science communication and teaching, Nuno Maulide highly deserves this prestigious award and recognition.
Nuno Maulide’s research mostly focused on unusual or "unconventional" reactivity profiles of organic compounds with a particular interest in high-energy reactive intermediates that can be generated under mild conditions and subsequently lead to rearrangements, domino reaction sequences or catalytic asymmetric transformations. One of his research goals at CeMM is translating the “precision design” that is enabled by synthesis, whereby modification and tailoring of organic molecules can be done with atomic precision, to the realm of biomedical research with an impact on medical practice.
Nuno Maulide is a trained chemist. He underwent doctoral studies in the Université catholique de Louvain and, in 2007, obtained his PhD working on the application of functionalized orthoesters in organic synthesis. He then moved to Stanford University for a post-doctoral stay. Nuno started his independent career in 2009, when he was appointed group leader at the Max-Plank-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim an der Ruhr. In 2013 he moved to the University of Vienna, taking up his current position as Full Professor of Organic Synthesis. Nuno is a holder of several ERC Grants, leads a Christian Doppler Laboratory and joined CeMM as Adjunct PI in November 2018. At the beginning of 2019 Nuno Maulide was elected Scientist of the Year by the Austrian Club of Education and Science Journalists.
The Ignaz L. Lieben Award founded in 1863 and named after the banking house Lieben is given to scientists for outstanding achievements in the fields of molecular biology, chemistry or physics. Since 2004 Isabel and Alfred Bader are generously sponsoring the prize. Renowned researchers such as the physicist Lise Meitner or the two Nobel Prize laureates Viktor Hess and Ott Loewi were awarded the Ignaz L. Lieben Prize in the past. In 2010, CeMM Principal Investigator Robert Kralovics received the prize for achievements in uncovering the genetic basis of myeloproliferative disorders.
Targeted drugs are a cornerstone of personalized medicine, yet come with important drawbacks. They restrain disease progression – but rarely eradicate the cancer. Patients therefore need to take the drugs essentially forever, exposing them to severe side effects and incurring high costs for the healthcare system. Combination therapies could potentially overcome these limitations. A study by scientists from CeMM, the Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in collaboration with the Medical University of Vienna shows how epigenetic analysis and automated microscopy help prioritize new drug combinations for leukemia therapy. The results were published in Nature Chemical Biology. (DOI: 10.1038/s41589-018-0205-2) on 28 January 2019.
The study “Combined chemosensitivity and chromatin profiling prioritizes drug combinations in CLL” was published in Nature Chemical Biology on 28 January 2019. DOI: 10.1038/s41589-018-0205-2
Authors: Christian Schmidl*, Gregory I Vladimer*, André F Rendeiro*, Susanne Schnabl*, Tea Pemovska, Christina Taubert, Thomas Krausgruber, Mohammad Araghi, Nikolaus Krall, Berend Snijder, Rainer Hubmann, Anna Ringler, Kathrin Runggatscher, Dita Demirtas, Oscar Lopez de la Fuente, Martin Hilgarth, Cathrin Skrab, Edit Porpaczy, Michaela Gruber, Gregor Hoermann, Stefan Kubicek, Philipp Staber, Medhat Shehata#, Giulio Superti-Furga#, Ulrich Jäger#, Christoph Bock#.
* Co-first author / These authors contributed equally to this work
# Co-last author / These authors jointly supervised this work
Funding: This study was supported by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OeAW), the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF), the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO), “Initiative Krebsforschung” of the Medical University of Vienna, the Austrian Society of Hematology and Oncology, the Anniversary Fund of the Austrian National Bank (OeNB), and the European Research Council (ERC).
An important group of genes that is frequently mutated in cancer consists of kinases, which mediate communication within cells. As enzymes, kinases are promising candidates to target for cancer therapy and as such, by identifying interactions between kinases and chemotherapeutic drugs the treatment for cancer could be improved. A research team, led by CeMM PI Joanna Loizou, together with colleagues from the Francis Crick Institute and King´s College, London has now established a catalog of the human kinome in response to different types of genotoxic stress.
Chemotherapy is one of the standard treatments for cancer, and one of the main challenges in cancer treatment is to find means of causing maximum damage to cancer cells with minimum damage to normal cells, by identifying specific cancer vulnerabilities. A group of proteins known to play an important role in the DNA damage response is kinases. Indeed, many kinases are mutated in a variety of human cancers. However, when taken as a whole, it is apparent that the large majority of kinases are understudied. In their recent study, first author Michel Owusu, former PhD Student in Joanna Loizou´s group, and his colleagues, focused on inactivating mutations in kinases generated by CRISPR-Cas9.
By inactivating all possible kinases in human cells and treating them with different types of DNA damaging chemotherapeutic drugs they uncovered vulnerabilities to certain types of DNA damage. This is particularly important for genes such as MARK3 or EPHB6, which are less characterized and yet commonly inactivated in the development of cancer.
In addition, the researchers characterized the effect of selected chemotherapeutic drugs on cancer cells in regards to growth, death, cell cycle and DNA damage. They revealed that within cells, MARK3 mediated communication after DNA damage. In the absence of MARK3, this communication was disrupted, leading to increased death of cancer cells after treatment with DNA damaging chemotherapeutic drugs. Thus, MARK3 is a potential novel biomarker in the treatment of cancer.
The study “Mapping the human kinome in response to DNA damage” was published online in Cell Reports, on 15 January 2019, DOI: doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2018.12.087
Authors: Michel Owusu, Peter Bannauer, Joana Ferreira da Silva, Thanos P. Mourikis, Alistair Jones, Peter Májek, Michael Caldera, Marc Wiedner, Charles-Hugues Lardeau, André C. Mueller, Jörg Menche, Stefan Kubicek, Francesca D. Ciccarelli and Joanna I. Loizou
Funding: The study was funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy, the National Foundation for Research, Technology, and Development and Austrian Science Fund (FWF).
Facial tumors of Tasmanian devils belong to the extremely rare cases of transmissible cancers. Nevertheless, they are highly interesting for biomedical research, as they allow the study of fundamental properties of cancer cells and their interaction with the host´s immune system. Scientists at CeMM, the Vienna University of Veterinary Medicine, the Medical University of Vienna and the LBI for Cancer Research were able to elucidate key molecular mechanisms that are crucial for the transmissibility of the tumor cells. The study „The ERBB-STAT3 Axis Drives Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor Disease” was published in Cancer Cell, on 14 January 2019, DOI: 10.1016/j.ccell.2018.11.018.
Tumors usually grow exclusively in the organism where their cell of origin derives from. The same applies for human cancers: apart from some rare cases, like the accidental transmission by a cut during surgery, there a no reports on contagious cancer cells. A multitude of molecular safety measures of the immune system is responsible for rejecting and destroying any foreign tissue.
An exception to this nearly universal rule exists among Tasmanian devils, the world’s largest living carnivorous marsupial. Since two decades, a deadly facial tumor is spreading at a rapid pace among the animals that killed according to current estimates around 90 percent of the wild population. Peculiarly, the cancer cells are transmitted from one Tasmanian devil to the other by bites. All collected tumor samples are genetically nearly identical and derive presumably from a single cell of origin.
How this cancer became transmissible and by what means it escapes the immune system of its otherwise healthy hosts puzzled scientists since the discovery of the mysterious disease. The scientists found that receptor molecules on the surface of the cancer cells, so-called ERBB receptors, show massively increased activity. Those receptors trigger a biochemical chain reaction within the cells that eventually activates STAT3 proteins, transcription factors that alter the cell’s genetic program. The result is an extensive rebuild of the cell: The number of molecules serving as identification for the immune system are reduced, while at the same time proliferation is accelerated and factors for metastasis of the tumor cells are produced.
Publication: Lindsay Kosack*, Bettina Wingelhofer*, Alexandra Popa*, Anna Orlova*, Benedikt Agerer, Bojan Vilagos, Peter Majek, Katja Parapatics, Alexander Lercher, Anna Ringler, Johanna Klughammer, Mark Smyth, Kseniya Khamina, Hatoon Baazim, Elvin D. de Araujo, David A. Rosa, Jisung Park, Gary Tin, Siawash Ahmar, Patrick T. Gunning, Christoph Bock, Hannah V. Siddle, Gregory M. Woods, Stefan Kubicek, Elisabeth P. Murchison, Keiryn L. Bennett, Richard Moriggl*, and Andreas Bergthaler*. The ERBB-STAT3 Axis Drives Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor. Cancer Cell 35, 1-15 January 14, 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.ccell.2018.11.018.*These authors contributed equally.
The study was funded by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the European Research Council (ERC) and the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG).
Thank you to our collaborators, partners and friends for all the support and dedication to science in 2018! CeMM wishes you enjoyable holidays, and a successful start into the New Year!
Population trends and the global sustainable development goals
The 9th S.M.A.R.T. Lecture held by Professor Wolfgang Lutz, Founding Director of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU), was a plea for education. Particularly female education not only connects to a decrease of child mortality and to an increase of life expectancy, it proves to be key to the alleviation of poverty.
In his talk, Wolfgang Lutz proclaimed that essentially people are not very different all over the world. However, we face a universal development of “demographic modernization” with countries currently at different stages of the same process: In the first stage falling death rates due to better sanitation and medical advance together with a culturally determined high birth rate result in a high population growth. In a later stage of development birth rates also fall, leading to low or even negative population growth. By the examples of the demographic transition of Finland from 1722-2017, birth and death rates at Mauritius from 1875 on, and a study on the effect of income or education on the infant mortality in India Wolfgang Lutz impressively showed the effect of education on a higher life expectancy: When it comes to survival, mind matters more than money!
Empirical studies show that the most transformative social changes are associated with the spread of universal female literacy, and the future of world population growth and adaptive capacity to environmental change will crucially depend on female education. The “homo sapiens literata” (MPI-EVA, McElreath) - a sub-species of homo sapiens characterized by high abstraction, literacy, codified knowledge, complex socio-economic institutions and modern science - makes the change. A lively discussion followed the talk, which will continue at CeMM: How can we contribute to a positive societal development? Education matters!
We thank Professor Lutz for his inspiring talk within the S.M.A.R.T. lecture series at CeMM!
Following internal discussions at CeMM on human genome editing – prompted by recent reports on the birth of gene-edited babies using CRISPR technology in China – we distance ourselves from human trials performed without adequate ethical approval by the responsible institutions and in violation of both local regulations and the international consensus in the scientific community.
CeMM welcomes responsible research on understanding and advancing genome editing technology including CRISPR, which greatly benefits basic biomedical research and has great potential also for the treatment of many genetic diseases. Importantly, any such research must be performed in strict concordance with local, national, and international laws and regulations. Furthermore, it should be discussed and supported by the international scientific community, including biologists and medical researchers as well as ethicists, social scientists and various stakeholders of civil society, such as patients’ organizations.
There is broad consensus within the scientific community that editing of the human germline for human enhancement is entirely unacceptable. In contrast, genome editing to correct severe genetic diseases may be acceptable if there is a clear positive risk-benefit ratio, no suitable alternatives, comprehensive preparatory work supporting feasibility, full legal and regulatory compliance, and strong framework of ethical guidance and supervision.
CeMM is committed to participate in a broad societal dialog about CRISPR technology, genome editing, and other developments in the life sciences. It is important that these developments are not happening in perceived or actual secrecy at highly specialized research institutions, but that they are part of a broad discussion about chances and risks, and based on information, education and divulgation on all scientific, medical, ethical and societal aspects associated. CeMM is committed in fostering this debate and promoting genetic literacy in the general population.
To read more about the potential applications of CRISPR technology, and the use of it at CeMM, please download the full statement.