Biology & Medicine

Possible lung cancer therapy

Tumours need a steady supply of sufficient nutrients to be able to grow. So they stimulate neighbouring blood vessels to proliferate and sprout using messenger compounds. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research have now figured out the role of the Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) and its receptor ‘VEGFR-2’ in human lung adenocarcinoma. When VEGF binds to VEGFR-2 on cancer cells, secretion of the growth-factor itself is boosted consequently accelerating tumour growth. In experiments the scientists switched off the growth-factor and proteins responsible for this signalling thereby slowing down tumour growth. The tumours were even reduced in size by employing other inhibitors in combination. Furthermore they also learnt from examinations of lung cancer patients that therapy with these inhibitors only makes sense if the cancer cells express large numbers of VEGFR2. These results can contribute to developing new cancer therapies.
Possible lung cancer therapy
Picture: The feedback loop of the tumour: The cancer cells secrete the growth-factor VEGF (yellow) in order to stimulate nearby blood vessels to introduce small sprouts into the tumour. At the same time, the cells also express VEGFR-2 on their surface, which the VEGF binds to. In this way, the cancer cells are stimulated to produce even more VEGF. © MPI for Neurological Research

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MPI for for Marine Microbiology: Scientists unravel the mystery of marine methane oxidation

Researchers uncover how microorganisms on the ocean floor protect the atmosphere against methane – Microbiologists and geochemists from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, along with their colleagues from Vienna and Mainz, show that marine methane oxidation coupled to sulfate respiration can be performed by a single microorganism, a member of the ancient kingdom of the Archaea, and does not need to be carried out in collaboration with a bacterium, as previously thought. They published their discovery as an article in the renowned scientific journal Nature.

Picture: The enrichment of the microorganisms responsible for marine AOM, archaea in red and bacteria in green from the Isis Mud Volcano in the Mediterranean Sea has taken 8 years of continuous incubation. Without these cultures it would not have been possible to trace down the complex sulfur cycling involved in AOM. © Jana Milucka, MPI f. Marine Microbiology

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Center for Advanced Regenerative Engineering (CARE) on the way

Professor Hans Schöler, Director of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster, welcomes the clear commitment to CARE made by the state government of North-Rhine Westphalia: “We are delighted to report that a firm agreement has been reached on the development of this important institute.” The proposed translational research centre will jointly further develop insights from basic research together with the business community so that they can provide a real benefit for patients in the form of new treatment and diagnostic processes. CARE was initiated by the MPI in Münster and Max Planck Innovation, the Max Planck Society’s technology transfer organisation.

Picture: Neural stem cells can become pluripotent. They can then be differentiated into smooth muscular cells that are found, for example, in blood and lymph vessels (red: muscle cells, bleu: cell nuclei). © MPI for Molecular Biomedicine – Kinarm Ko

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MPI for Heart and Lung Research: Possible new treatment for lung cancer

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim and Justus Liebig University Giessen have discovered an enzyme which regulates the division of tumour cells and blood vessel growth in the cancer tissue. Now they aim to starve lung tumours by blocking the phosphodiesterase PDE4.

Picture: Formation of PDE4 in oxygen-deficient lung tumour cells. Lung cells produce PDE4 (stained green: left) even if their oxygen content is normal. More PDE4 is produced (right) if they are oxygen-deficient (hypoxia). The cell nuclei are stained blue. © Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research
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MPI for Molecular Genetics: New anti-diabetic substance found

Liquorice root found to contain anti-diabetic substance. Researchers discover promising anti-diabetic substance in the amorfrutin class of natural substances: It provides the raw material for liquorice candy, calms the stomach and alleviates diseases of the airways: liquorice root. Chosen as the “Medicinal plant 2012”, the root has been treasured in traditional healing since ancient times. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin have now discovered that liquorice root also contains substances with an anti-diabetic effect. These amorfrutins not only reduce blood sugar, they are also anti-inflammatory and are very well tolerated. Thus, they may be suitable for use in the treatment of complex metabolic disorders.

Picture: Scientists have identified a group of natural substances with an anti-diabetic effect, the amorfrutins, in the edible roots of the liquorice plant Glycyrrhiza. © Alexander Vögtli, PharmaWiki


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MPI of Neurobiology: New immune defence enzyme discovered

A previously unknown serine protease forms part of the antibacterial defence arsenal of neutrophil granulocytes: Neutrophil granulocytes comprise important defences for the immune system. When pathogenic bacteria penetrate the body, they are the first on the scene to mobilise other immune cells via signal molecules, thereby containing the risk. To this end, they release serine proteases – enzymes that cut up other proteins to activate signal molecules. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried have now discovered a new serine protease: neutrophil serine protease 4, or NSP4. This enzyme could provide a new target for the treatment of diseases that involve an overactive immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Picture: Microscope image of normal human bone marrow tissue with stained NSP4 in myeloblasts and myelocytes. © MPI of Neurobiology






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MPI for Molecular Biomedicine: Culprit behind unchecked angiogenesis identified

Max Planck researchers discover how drug resistance in tumours may be prevented: Angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels, is a complex process during which different signalling proteins interact with each other in a highly coordinated fashion. The growth factor VEGF and the Notch signalling pathway both play important roles in this process. VEGF promotes vessel growth by binding to its receptor, VEGFR2, while the Notch signalling pathway acts like a switch capable of suppressing angiogenesis. Until recently, scientists had assumed that Notch cancels the effects of VEGF through the downregulation of VEGFR2. Now, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine and the Westphalian Wilhelms-University in Münster, Germany, were able to demonstrate that defective Notch signalling enables strong and deregulated vessel growth even when VEGF or VEGFR2 are inhibited. In this case, a different VEGF family receptor, VEGFR3, is strongly upregulated, promoting angiogenesis. “This finding might help explain drug resistance issues in certain types of cancer therapy and could become the basis for novel treatment strategies,” suggests Ralf Adams, MPI’s Executive Director and Chair of the Department of Tissue Biology and Morphogenesis.

Picture: Growing blood vessels in the retina of a mouse. Vessels grow from the centre to the outer parts of unsupplied tissue. © MPI for Molecular Biomedicine





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MPI for for Molecular Biomedicine: Somatic stem cells obtained from skin cells for first time ever

Skipping pluripotency ‘detour,’ Max Planck researcher Prof. Schöler again takes lead in stem cell research: Breaking new ground, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster, Germany, have succeeded in obtaining somatic stem cells from fully differentiated somatic cells.  Stem cell researcher Hans Schöler and his team took skin cells from mice and, using a unique combination of growth factors while ensuring appropriate culturing conditions, have managed to induce the cells’ differentiation into neuronal somatic stem cells. “Our research shows that reprogramming somatic cells does not require passing through a pluripotent stage,” explains Schöler.  “Thanks to this new approach, tissue regeneration is becoming a more streamlined – and safer – process.”

Picture: Immunofluorescence microscopy image of the induced neural stem cells using antibodies against two neural stem cell markers SSEA1 (red colour) and Olig2 (green colour). © MPI for Molecular Biomedicine

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MPI for Biochemistry: New insights in protein folding process

Proteins are the molecular building blocks and machinery of cells and involved in practically all biological processes. To fulfil their tasks, they need to be folded into a complicated three-dimensional structure. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) in Martinsried near Munich, Germany, have now analysed one of the key players of this folding process: the molecular chaperone DnaK. “The understanding of these mechanisms is of great interest in the light of the many diseases in which folding goes awry, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s,” says Ulrich Hartl, MPIB director. The work of the researchers has now been published in Cell Reports.

Picture: The chaperone DnaK binds to new proteins and mediates their folding. Proteins it cannot fold, DnaK transports to GroEL, a highly specialised folding machine. © MPI of Biochemistry




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MPI of Immunobiology and Epigenetics: Observing the maturation and movement of immune cells

For the first time, scientists follow the development of individual immune cells in a living zebrafish embryo. Thanks to their translucent tissue the embryos can be observed live under the microscope. So the researchers could observe the real-time development of T-cells, starting with the formation of the thymic anlage, via the cells’ migration into the organ from the bone marrow, right up to the stage when the fully formed T-cells are released from the thymus. The new method could, amongst other things, help with the development of drugs to treat malfunctions of the thymus.

This image depicts a four-day-old zebrafish embryo. The immune cells are illmuniated in green; the thymus tissue in red. The eye is visible in the top part of the picture. © Isabel Hess/Immunity, 16 February 2012



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