25. November 2020

Transdisciplinary success Transdisciplinary success

From artificial intelligence to antiepileptic drugs: University of Bonn awards prizes for innovative projects

Research across subject boundaries: Researchers from the University of Bonn have been awarded a prize by the University's Transdisciplinary Research Area "Life and Health" for three special projects in the life sciences. The steering committee of the research area rewards the three project teams with 50,000 euros each for their creative and innovative approaches. Up to three researchers work together on one project. They come from the disciplines of biology, pharmacy, medicine and mathematics.

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Press picture: - Prof. Dr. Christa Müller and Dr. Michael Wenzel © Barbara Frommann / University of Bonn

The thematic complex "Life and Health" is one of six so-called Transdisciplinary Research Areas (TRA), which reflect the university-wide research profile of the University of Excellence Bonn. The research areas bring together researchers from a wide range of faculties and disciplines to work together on central research topics relevant for the future.

"The winning projects reflect the strong potentials for innovation within our research area. Researchers from a variety of disciplines contribute their expertise to jointly investigate biomedical questions whose answers can have a lasting effect on society," emphasizes Prof. Waldemar Kolanus, one of the two speakers of the Transdisciplinary Research Area "Life and Health".

About the winning projects:

Artificial intelligence decodes lymph nodes

Immune cells need to be in the right place in the tissue at the right time in order for them to work properly in the body. In lymph nodes, for example, which are highly complex organized units of the immune system, the correct localization of cells ensures that immune reactions are initiated, maintained and terminated appropriately. However, relatively little is known about the regulatory mechanisms that cause the cells to arrange themselves correctly within the tissue. To find out more about this, biologist Prof. Andreas Schlitzer, physician Dr. Thorsten Send from the ENT Clinic of the University Hospital of Bonn and mathematician Prof. Jan Hasenauer work together closely in their project. Their aim is to study the cellular organization in human cervical lymph nodes, both in a healthy state and during inflammation. To do this, they measure which genes in the cell are transcribed from the DNA into so-called messenger RNA at certain points in time, measure the cells using modern methods and make them visible by means of computer-assisted imaging techniques. As not all processes are experimentally accessible, the researchers additionally model the biological processes using artificial intelligence. In this way, they want to create a multimodal map of cervical lymph nodes with cellular resolution.

Antiepileptic drugs with light switch

Pharmacist Prof. Christa Müller and neurologist Dr. Michael Wenzel work together in their project to develop a pharmacological approach that may in future be used to treat epilepsy patients. To this end, the researchers target so-called photo-activatable agents. The special thing about this type of drugs is that they only develop their effect when they are irradiated with light. This allows doctors to "switch them on" at exactly the place in the body where they are needed, resulting in considerably fewer side effects. In their project, the researchers are working on chemically modifying the substances phenytoin and propofol in such a way that they only become active when exposed to light of a certain wavelength. In order to build a kind of light switch into the substances, the pharmacists around Christa Müller first create the corresponding compounds and characterize them. In the further course of the project, the biomedical researchers around Michael Wenzel test how they can use optical fiber implants to "switch on" the active ingredients in the brains of mice in a targeted manner and how they can combat epileptic seizures. Alongside a substantial reduction of medical adverse effects, this project might pave the way for a number of novel highly efficacious antiepileptic drugs that are currently considered unfeasible in clinical epileptology due to the lack of possibilities to activate them locally.

Fat in a Petri dish

In their joint project, the two biologists Prof. Dagmar Wachten and Prof. Elvira Mass want to identify the structure of white adipose tissue, the most common adipose tissue in the body. The tissue consists of different cell types, but little is known about how the individual cell types are organized three-dimensionally in the tissue, and how they interact with each other and thereby support the development and function of the white adipose tissue. In their project, the researchers focus on how macrophages, which are cells of the innate immune system, send signals to the neighboring cell types of white adipose tissue and communicate with them. The researchers aim to decipher this communication during the development of white adipose tissue using various molecular biological methods and to visualize it three-dimensionally with the help of modern imaging techniques. They use genetically modified mice and so-called organoids, which are small pieces of tissue produced in the laboratory. The approach is intended to serve as a basis for identifying the influence of macrophages on the biological system of white adipose tissue. This may contribute to the development of functional organoids from stem cells that resemble human white adipose tissue and thereby enable further investigation.

About the Transdisciplinary Research Area (TRA) "Life and Health"

Life exists in complex structures, from the smallest molecules that interact with each other to the interplay of various organisms in ecological systems. Understanding the complexity of life is therefore one of the most fascinating research topics. If researchers decipher the mechanisms underlying life, this will provide the basis for a better understanding of diseases and the development of new therapies. In a lively research environment and together with the Cluster of Excellence "Immunosensation2", the Transdisciplinary Research Area "Life and Health" of the University of Bonn focuses on comprehending life - from the level of the tiniest particles to the interaction of complex systems with the environment. One of the main objectives is the development of new strategies to improve and maintain health.

Media contact:

Dr. Meike Brömer
Management Transdisciplinary Research Area "Life and Health"
phone: +49 151 16933013
e-mail: life-and-health@uni-bonn.de

 

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