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Sanofi-aventis Foundation: Three young researchers given award

(Vienna, 30 Nov. 2010) The prize awarded by the sanofi-aventis Foundation for outstanding research work in the field of medicine was this year given to three upcoming scientists from MedUni Vienna whose work came out on top among a large number of high-quality submissions.

After a record number of submissions for the sanofi-aventis Prize at MedUni Vienna in 2009, the number of submitted works has increased again in 2010. Now this unrestricted grant is going to three upcoming scientists who were able to achieve top performances in all assessment criteria, as is also shown by publications in the top journals CELL and BLOOD. This concerns scientific excellence as well as relevance for clinical practice, with translational research in particular being the focus here. All three honoured works were considered of equal quality by the jury. This means that in 2010 there are again three prize winners, which can be seen as proof of the outstanding quality of young scientists at MedUni Vienna.

Mag.a Dr.in Beate Lichtenberger from the Cancer Research Institute received the award for her work which showed that the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) has a direct effect on cell growth with tumours and that the corresponding receptors are not only – as originally assumed – found on the cell surface but also inside the cells. This result also came about thanks to the interdisciplinary cooperation with Univ. Prof. Dr. Peter Petzelbauer from the Department of Dermatology and is now leading to more effective therapies to fight epithelial tumours.

In her research work Dr. Zoya Kuzmina from the Department of Medicine I was able to prove that immature CD19+CD21 B lymphocytes are cellular biomarkers for the response to photopheresis in patients with chronic GvHD and can also be used as biomarkers for objective measurement of the activity of chronic GvHD in the clinic. Chronic graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) is a common and serious complication of allogeneic bone marrow and blood stem cell transplantation. Affected patients have a high risk of infection and must be given immunosuppressive treatment for years, the extracorporeal photopheresis achieves high response rates here with excellent tolerance, so the discovery of this biomarker is of major importance for affected people and the doctors providing treatment. The research work was carried out in cooperation with the Division of Cellular Immunology and Immunohaematology of the Institute of Immunology.

Dr. Medhat Shehata from the Department of Medicine I, Division of Haematology/Haemostaseology, was able to show in his research results how cancer cells in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) can be led to targeted apoptosis (programmed cell death) without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue. In a standardised co-culture system (tumour and milieu) which is based on the situation in the body it has been shown that the signal exchange between leukaemia cells and the environment mainly takes place via the PI3 kinase signal transduction pathway. With targeted pharmacological/genetic inhibition of PI3 kinase, programmed cell death can be induced in CLL cells without affecting the surrounding healthy tissue cells. These findings could provide the first basis for a tailored therapy for this form of leukaemia, the most common in the world, and also be used as a basis for the development of drugs for other types of tumours.

Dr.in Alexandra Edelmayer, Medical Head of Sanofi Aventis Austria, was clearly impressed by the submitted works and made the following announcement: “Research is the basis in the health sector. Without research there are no innovations and no investments.”
This is also underlined by Univ. Prof. Dr. Markus Müller, Head of the Research Support Unit at MedUni Vienna: “The award-winning works are an indication of the high level of culture at MedUni Vienna in the field of translational, medical research. With all works it can be seen that these findings will benefit patients in the long run.“

The sanofi-aventis Foundation
As part of the “sanofi-aventis Foundation to promote medical research in Austria” sanofi-aventis regularly supports outstanding research work in the field of medicine.
A considerable amount of money has been provided to the Medical Universities of Graz, Innsbruck and Vienna every year since 1964. Each Medical University selects its own prize winners. The awards are always presented for achievements in the previous year. The prizes are handed over by the Medical Universities, applications must be sent to the Medical Universities. The prize winners are chosen by a board of trustees consisting of professors at the universities. sanofi-aventis is represented in the boards of trustees but has no influence on the decision.

The prize-winning research projects:
Autocrine VEGF Signaling Synergizes with EGFR in Tumor Cells to Promote Epithelial Cancer Development
Beate M. Lichtenberger, Poi Kiang Tan, Heide Niederleithner, Napoleone Ferrara, Peter Petzelbauer, Maria Sibilia
Cell, Volume 140, Issue 2, 268-279, 22 January 2010

Proportions of immature CD19+CD21_ B lymphocytes predict the response to extracorporeal photopheresis in patients with chronic graft-versus-host disease
Zoya Kuzmina, Hildegard T. Greinix, Robert Knobler, Nina Worel, Michal Kouba, Roman Weigl, Ulrike Körmöczi, Arno Rottal, David Pohlreich, Christoph Zielinski and Winfried F. Pickl
doi:10.1182/blood-2009-05-221028

Reconstitution of PTEN activity by CK2 inhibitors and interference with the PI3-K/Akt cascade counteract the anti-apoptotic effect of human stromal cells in chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Shehata M, Schnabl S, Demirtas D, Hilgarth M, Hubmann R, Ponath E, Badrnya S, Lehner C, Hoelbl A, Duechler M, Gaiger A, Zielinski C, Schwarzmeier JD, Jaeger U.
Blood. 2010 Oct 7;116(14):2513-21.