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Matthias Zimmermann awarded research funding prize by the Erste Bank der Österreichischen Sparkassen AG (First Bank of Austria)

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(Vienna, 19 December 2017) Matthias Zimmermann, PhD student at the Christian Doppler Laboratory for the Diagnosis and Regeneration of Cardiothoracic Diseases and junior doctor at MedUni Vienna’s Department of Oral, Maxillary and Facial Surgery, has been awarded the Erste Bank der Österreichischen Sparkassen AG research funding prize.

A heart attack is a "systemic" condition, which has an impact upon the whole body and engenders responses in other organs, such as liver and spleen. This is the main finding of the study published in the magazine "Oncotarget", which was conducted under the supervision of Hendrik Jan Ankersmit, Department of Surgery, Christian Doppler Laboratory for the Diagnosis and Regeneration of Cardiothoracic Diseases and the Departments of Dermatology (Michael Mildner) and Medicine II (Mariann Gyöngyösi) of the Medical University of Vienna.

Hitherto, standard science has usually attempted to understand the molecular and cellular processes following a heart attack using a monocausal approach rather than taking a holistic view. Equally, very little was known about the impact upon the tissue surrounding the seat of the infarction and upon other organs.

The study gives cause to rethink this "tunnel vision" approach, focusing solely upon the heart in the event of a heart attack. A myocardial infarction is not an isolated event but causes a reaction throughout the entire body. In the large animal model, the researchers were able to show that thousands of genes are involved in a heart attack. The heart attack modifies the expression of nearly 9,000 genes in the heart but also 900 in the liver and around 350 in the spleen tissue within 24 hours of the infarction.

At the same time, the researchers were able to ascribe a major role to the transcription factor Klf4, a protein that is important for activating many other genes – this insight was then confirmed by histological tests performed on human autopsy material.

The central message of the study is: a heart attack does not end with damaged heart muscle; a much wider spectrum of organs are affected. There is considerable evidence to indicate that a number of different organ systems (liver, spleen, etc.) are involved in coordinating the body's response to the infarction.

The new findings do not call into question the current acute treatment for heart attacks but do open up the debate as to whether future treatment should be viewed systemically and should address different areas of the body.

About the prize
One of the aims of the Vienna Medical Association is to promote research work by young doctors. Once a year, it therefore awards two research prizes to young scientists, the Theodor Billroth Prize and the Erste Bank der Österreichischen Sparkassen AG (First Bank of Austria) Research Prize. The prize is worth 7,500 euros and can be shared among a maximum of three prize-winners.

About Matthias Zimmermann
Matthias Zimmermann studied medicine at MedUni Vienna and dentistry at the University Clinic of Dentistry Vienna, works as a junior doctor at the Department of Oral, Maxillary and Facial Surgery, MedUni Vienna/Vienna General Hospital and is doing his PhD at the Christian Doppler Laboratory for the Diagnosis and Regeneration of Cardiothoracic Diseases (Director: Hendrik Jan Ankersmit) at the Division of Thoracic Surgery of the Department of Surgery, MedUni Vienna/Vienna General Hospital.