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News from the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation.

The 2017 Heinrich Wieland Prize has been awarded to Prof. Alexander Varshavsky. (c) A. Griesch
The 2017 Heinrich Wieland Prize has been awarded to Prof. Alexander Varshavsky. (c) A. Griesch

Professor Alexander Varshavsky from the California Institute of Technology, USA, has received the 2017 Heinrich Wieland Prize for discovering the biology of the ubiquitin system. Dr Varshavsky showed that the ubiquitin system is a master regulator that precisely tunes the levels of proteins in cells, thereby controlling a strikingly wide range of their processes, including division, protein synthesis, and stress responses. The 100,000-euro prize awarded by the non-profit Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation was presented during a scientific symposium in Munich, Germany, on 19 October 2017.

Link to the full press release

Link to an image of the three-dimensional structure of the protein ubiquitin. Caption: In red, areas where ubiquitin can attach to itself to form chains, blue is the N-end, yellow the C-end of the amino acid chain. Copyright: Paul Riviere, CC_BY-SA 3.0

Click on the image to see the film "Seeing is understanding" with a 3D animation of this image as well as further snapshots of life, which led to important discoveries, and a first impression of the planned Imaging Technology Centre. Image: J Cell Sci 2016 129: 444-456.

In 2018, the construction of a unique centre for unifying the latest technologies in optical and electron microscopy will begin at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation will donate 5 million euros over a period of 15 years primarily toward the training of guest scientists from around the world in the use of the highly complex microscopes, and toward support for their research projects with them.

Particularly when applied in combination, new imaging technologies promise to enable unprecedented insights and findings in life sciences research. Yet, nowhere in the world is there currently a centre dedicated to giving researchers access to the combination of the latest optical and electron microscopy technologies, to training scientists to work with the complex technologies, and to refining these technologies. In fact, even the access to each of the very expensive and complex technologies by itself is currently limited to only a few sites.

In 2018, construction of the Imaging Technology Centre will begin in Heidelberg at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), one of the world’s foremost basic research centres. It will be the first centre to provide researchers from all over the globe access to these technologies in combination.

The building and the equipment of the new centre will be financed by the German federal government, the state government of Baden-Wuerttemberg, and industry. The ground-breaking ceremony will take place in the summer of 2018.

To the press release of the EMBL.

From left: Prof. U. Förstermann, PD Dr J. Fahrer, Chr. Boehringer, PD Dr K. Ponto, Dr T. Voigt, Prof Dr H. Schild. Photo: J. Arlt

Toxicologist Dr Jörg Fahrer found out, how cells of the colon react to certain cancer-causing agents that are produced, for example, while roasting meat and how the cell protects itself against damage to its DNA and damage-induced cell death. His results help to understand better how cancer of the colon develops.

Ophtomalogist Dr Katharina Ponto analyzed data from a large health study and thus delivered the first sound and informative numbers about retinal damage in very early-stage diabetes patients. Her data suggest that targeted screening programmes could help to prevent retinal damage due to diabetes.

To the press release (in German).

Von links: Dr. E. Frank, O. Boehringer, Prof. B. Simon, Dr. T. Voigt, Dr. A. Baranowski, Dr. G. Gasteiger, Prof. U. Förstermann, Dr. C. Walther, Prof. M. Beutel. Photo: T. Böhm

Dr Andreas Baranowski discovered that prostheses made of titanium and coated with “bone sialoprotein,” an innate protein of the bone, activate bone-specific genes. This could in the future result in a better anchoring of the prosthesis in the bone, and thus a more durable and stable fit.

Dr Georg Gasteiger proved that certain cells of the innate immune system, the so-called ILCs, are local defence cells adapted to their respective tissues. This finding is a significant step in understanding immune system function.

To the press release (in German)

The chemist Peter Schultz has been honoured with the 2016 Heinrich Wieland Prize for his fundamental contributions to the biologically inspired synthesis of new molecules and, in particular, for the expansion of the genetic code. Schultz, professor at The Scripps Research Institute in California, combines nature’s own methods with principles from the chemistry laboratory to create molecules with new functions to use as drugs, study life, or synthesize new materials. His findings have already led to the development of new drugs – some approved, others in the clinical trial stage – against degenerative diseases, cancer, autoimmune, and neglected diseases. The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation has presented the international 100,000-euro award to him during a scientific symposium on synthetic biology on 13 October 2016 in Munich.

To the press release

From left: Prof. U. Förstermann, Chr. Boehringer, Dr S. Karbach, Dr T. Voigt, Dr A. Ulges, O. Boehringer, Prof. B. Simon, Prof. M. Beutel. Photo: P. Pulkowski.

Cardiologist Dr Susanne Karbach found a possible explanation for the observation that patients with psoriasis present higher rates of cardiovascular diseases. Immunologist Dr Alexander Ulges discovered a new group of regulatory T cells, which modulates immune defence in the lungs. In doing so, he also deciphered the corresponding mechanism at the molecular level.

For developing the method of optogenetics, hailed as a “breakthrough of the decade” Professor Gero Miesenböck from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom received the 2016 Heinrich Wieland Prize. He was the first to install a light-controlled on-off switch in brain cells. The pioneering method allows researchers to selectively switch nerve cells on and off. In this way researchers learn in a step-by-step process what behaviour the studied brain circuits control and what goes awry in disease.

To the press release

Professor Reinhard Jahn has been selected as the recipient of the international Heinrich Wieland Prize for his paradigmatic studies on membrane fusion, synaptic vesicles, and neurotransmitter release – processes that occur when cells grow, transport substances, or signal. With the 100,000 euro prize the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation is honouring the pioneering achievements of the Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany. To mark the 50th anniversary of the prize, the foundation held a scientific symposium and a festive award ceremony on October 21, 2014, in the Munich Residenz in Munich, Germany.

To the press release