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CeMM bids farewell to Sylvia Knapp and Christoph Binder


Sylvia Knapp and Christoph Binder (© Klaus Pichler / CeMM).

Sylvia Knapp and Christoph Binder have been CeMM pioneers and have been associated with their groups with us for 15 years. On 31 March 2021 their CeMM research contracts end and we would like to say a big heartfelt thank you for the scientific contributions, the networking and personal engagement.

Both joined CeMM at the first round of Principal Investigator hiring and have been critical in setting the stage for future directions and hires at CeMM ever since. Both embodied the very essence of how CeMM was trying to position itself, as a bridge between hard-core frontier research in biomedicine and the clinical world. After their MDs, both had gone to prestigious institutions abroad to also obtain a PhD, making them perfectly capable of navigating the medical and the basic research world with equal ease. Coincidentally, their respective fathers, Walter Knapp and Bernd R. Binder, were highly successful MedUni Professors and influential scientists themselves. Both were fervent advocators of molecular medicine and important early contributors to the CeMM project.

At CeMM, Sylvia Knapp and Christoph Binder, helped generation after generation of researchers to make connections to the relevant clinical departments at the Medical University while contributing to the creation of what can be defined the CeMM culture of international, collegial and highly collaborative spirit. Over the years both, Sylvia Knapp and Christoph Binder, successfully took up more and more responsibilities at the Medical University of Vienna, became inspiring professors, and now also filling important functions at yet other universities and funding organizations. They trained and accompanied a large number of students to finish their PhD. Equally critical for the CeMM mission, they both have, with their teams and often in collaboration with other CeMM researchers, published several high-impact papers. We are proud to have supported their scientific career early on and so contributed to their success. We hope that CeMM has also left a positive footprint in their personal development as researchers, mentors, and community leaders. Christoph once compared CeMM with a place where you are “heart-washed”. It is nice to think that people who leave the institute are taking along not only the recipe for scientific excellence, but also the collaborative spirit and the civil purpose of contributing to society.

CeMM has always been meant to be a career springboard. We do not offer tenure, so after a successful research period, we need to allow a new generation of PIs to join CeMM and freely develop their potential and scientific interests. Although it is sad to separate, we count on the well-established networks and research collaborations which will help us to stay connected with Sylvia and Christoph and their current teams and alumni, even without formal ties. Our companionship and collegiality cannot and will not be disturbed by any change of formal status, after having shared such a long and critical part of our scholarly journey together, as well as many fond memories. We anticipate that this next phase will actually bring new opportunities and dimensions to the relationship.

We would like to look back at some of the research highlights Sylvia, and Christoph and their teams have performed and published in collaboration with CeMM:

Sylvia Knapp studied Medicine in Vienna and Berlin, is a board-certified internist and obtained her PhD at the University of Amsterdam in the laboratory of Tom van der Poll. In 2006 she joined CeMM as Principal Investigator and until recently, she continued her clinical duties while also running her laboratory. In 2012 Sylvia became Professor for Infection Biology at the Medical University of Vienna. She is a member of the Academia.Net circle of excellent female scientists, corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, was appointed to the Board of the Medical University of Graz, and is Vice President of the Ludwig Boltzmann Society. Sylvia’s research focuses on the innate immune response to infections. Among the highlights:

  • Identification of the missing link between hemolysis and infection. (Heme drives hemolysis-induced susceptibility to infection via disruption of phagocyte functions. Martins et al, Nature Immunology 2016)
  • Investigation on how the neonatal first-breath literally shapes the lung’s immune system. The study reveals how first breath-induced interleukin-33 signaling shapes the performance of pulmonary immune cells and influences anti-bacterial defenses. (First-breath induced type-2 pathways shape the lung immune environment. Saluzzo et al, Cell Reports 2017)
  • Discovery of how a module of the immune system, best known for causing allergic reactions, plays a key role in acquiring host defense against infections triggered by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. (IgE Effector Mechanisms, in Concert with Mast Cells, Contribute to Acquired Host Defense against Staphylococcus aureus; Starkl et al, Immunity 2020)

Christoph Binder obtained his MD degree from the University of Vienna, and his PhD degree from the University of California in San Diego while working with ‪Joseph‬‬‬ (Joe) L Witztum. He joined the Department of Laboratory Medicine of the Medical University of Vienna in 2005, where in 2009 he was appointed Professor of Atherosclerosis Research, and now is Deputy Head of Division. In 2006 he joined CeMM as Principal Investigator. Christoph won numerous prestigious fellowships and awards. He is a specialist in laboratory medicine and leads a research group focusing on the role of immune functions in atherosclerosis. Among the highlights in his research we find:‬‬‬

  • The identification of a novel, important pathogenic mechanism for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), opening new possibilities for the development of therapies. (Complement factor H binds malondialdehyde epitopes and protects from oxidative stress; Weismann et al, Nature 2011). As an anecdote, the Minister for Science and Research Karlheinz Töchterle attended the celebration at CeMM to personally congratulate Christoph Binder, first-author PhD student David Weismann and the entire team for the important publication.
  • Discovery of a protective mechanism against atherosclerosis. The researchers found BAFF to have anti-inflammatory properties, which has a positive effect on plaque size and atherosclerosis risk. (BAFF Neutralization Aggravates Atherosclerosis; Tsiantoulas, Sage et al, Circulation 2018)
  • Discovery of a new therapeutic approach for reducing the risk of thrombosis. Influencing IgM antibody levels in high-risk patients could be a viable addition to the previously established blood thinning treatment. (Natural IgM antibodies inhibit microvesicle-driven coagulation and thrombosis; Obermayer, Afonyushkin et al, Blood 2020)

We wish Sylvia, Christoph and their team members many more successful research projects, publications and prizes, and all the best for the future! The members of CeMM are looking forward to personally thank them and their teams in a farewell ceremony as soon as it is safe to do so. Thank you, you have been important partners for the starting phase and development of CeMM!