No. 8 /December 13, 1996

Migration of Immune Cells

Scientists in Berlin discover molecular Regulator

How do immune cells travel in the body when there is no infection they have to fight? Scientists of a national research laboratory in the northeast of Berlin (Germany), have identified a molecule which directs the migration of immune cells through the body into specific lymphoid organs where they receive training for their future tasks. The work of Reinhold Förster, Anita Mattis and Martin Lipp from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin-Buch and their co-workers Elisabeth Kremmer (GSF Research Center, Munich) and Eckhard Wolf and Gottfried Brem (Gene Center, University of Munich) has now been published in the American journal Cell (Vol.87, No. 6, pp. 1037-1047, 13 December 1996).

No. 7/ July 29, 1996

First Evidence for the Existence of Genes connected to Stroke

A team of researchers from the United States, Italy and Germany have found the first evidence for the existence of genes directly connected to stroke. In the genome of specific strains of rats they found three genetic factors one of which predisposes the animals to stroke. The other two protect them against the disease. The findings of Dr. Speranza Rubattu, Dr. Klaus Lindpaintner, Dr. Reinhold Kreutz (all Harvard Medical School, Boston/USA), Dr. Massimo Volpe (University of Naples/Italy) and M.D. PhD. Detlev Ganten and Dr. Ursula Ganten (both Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch/Germany), are published in the August issue of the journal Nature Genetics. The researchers believe that their research will provide important insights into the development of stroke in humans.

No. 6/ April 29, 1996

Short Fingers indicated the Way

German scientists have traced a new gene causing high blood pressure

A hitherto unknown genetic factor causing hereditary high blood pressure has been tracked down by a group of German physicians. A freak of nature played an important role in their investigations. For generations, various members of an extended family living in Turkey inherited the disposition for severe hypertension. In addition, all afflicted family members - and only they - had strikingly short fingers, clinically termed brachydactyly. This characteristic spawned the search for specific genetic differences between afflicted and non-afflicted relatives. In the May issue of Nature Genetics Prof. Friedrich Luft at the Franz Volhard Clinic for Cardiovascular Diseases and his colleagues at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin Buch report that they succeeded in localizing the responsible region on chromosome 12, one of the 23 chromosomes of which the human genome consists. The researchers will now identify, clone and finally sequence the respective gene. “We suggest that the identification of this gene will be of great relevance in elucidating new mechanisms of blood pressure regulation“, Prof. Luft pointed out.

No. 5/April 19, 1996

Awaking the immune system

Specific immune cells may arouse anti-cancer-force of the body

To train the immune system to attack tumour cells, cancer researchers and molecular biologist stake new hopes on a certain group of immune cells called dendritic cells. After special treatment in the laboratory, these cells seem to stimulate the immune system much more efficiently than genetically engineered cancer cells or cells of the connective tissue. At the 4th Symposium on Gene Therapy in Berlin, several scientists from the US and Germany reported on modern strategies using dendritic cells for anti-cancer-therapy. The concepts, some of which have already been tested in clinical trials, aim at special kinds of blood cancer, melanoma and kidney cell carcinomas.

No. 4/April 19, 1996

Tumour Vaccines - still a long Way to go

For the last 100 years it has been believed that the immune system plays a crucial role in the fight against cancer. Although scientists have gained fascinating new insights into how the immune system works, it is still not clearly understood how effectively this highly complex defense system of the body fights off cancer. Scientists have detected a number of different proteins and their respective genes which are able to activate immune cells against tumour cells. Among them are proteins called cytokines. They act as messengers among cells of the immune system and help to coordinate their actions. Moreover, some of these molecules even possess the capability to inhibit tumour growth. Therefore, scientists and clinicians have attempted to utilize the potential of cytokines to boost the immune system and thus increase its efficacy against tumours. Their goal is to develop tumour vaccines. "Animal experiments, as well as a number of clinical trials with cancer patients, have shown some encouraging results," stated Prof. Guido Forni from the University of Turin (Italy). "However, there is still a long way to go," he pointed out at the 4th Symposium on Gene Therapy (April 19, 1996) at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin-Buch. He is convinced that "more basic research is needed and, in the future, tumour vaccines should be used in patients with less advanced disease".

No. 3/ April 19, 1996

Michael Blaese: Gene Therapy can be a successful Tool It will take Decades of Research

New Approach with umbilical Cord Blood Cells

"Gene therapy can be a successful treatment for some patients suffering from ADA-SCID immunodeficiency," a severe inherited disease of the immune system, concluded Prof. Michael Blaese from the National Institutes of Health (NIH, Bethesda /USA), a scientist with more than five years of experience in this promising new field of medicine. Blaese was a speaker at the 4th Symposium on Gene Therapy (April 19th, 1996) at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin-Buch (Germany). He is one of the pioneers in this field who initiated the first clinical gene therapy trial in September 1990 involving two girls with ADA-deficiency. In the meantime, Blaese told the conference, eleven children with this disease have been enrolled in various gene therapy trials in the United States, Europe and Japan. The ultimate goal is to induce a long lasting effect by genetically altering the precursors of all blood cells, called stem cells, instead of immune cells. A new approach utilizes stem cells taken from the umbilical cord of newborn babies suffering from ADA. Blaese also pointed out more basic research is required for gene therapy.

No. 2/ April 19, 1996

Molecular brake for tumour cells

New Strategy of Gene Therapy aims at Cell Division Control

Despite their biological diversity, tumour cells of all kinds of tissues have one property in common - the loss of cell division control. The German cancer researcher, Prof. Michael Strauss from the Max-Planck-Group at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, and his group intend to stop this biological machinery with a new strategy of anti-cancer therapy. In order to bring the uncontrolled cell division to a standstill, they transfer substitute genes into cancer cells because, according to the researchers’ concept, the cells must stop growing before a kind of cell integrated safety device can become active. This vital mechanism allows defective cells to destroy themselves - while healthy cells are spared. „The biological principle of this concept is probably applicable to any kind of cancer“, Prof. Strauss pointed out at the 4th Symposium on Gene Therapy in Berlin on Friday, April 19th. However, the scientist stressed, these investigations are still restricted to animal experiments and application will depend on the availability of adequate “gene ferries“.

No. 1/ April 18, 1996

Focus on Cancer and the Immune System

4th German Gene Therapy Symposium in Berlin

The development of new strategies for the treatment of cancer which attempt to employ the innate capabilities of the immune system will be in the limelight of the 4th Gene Therapy Symposium in Germany. This international conference takes place from the 19th to the 20th at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), a national research laboratory northeast of Berlin, which focuses upon molecular biology and its application to the clinic.