Press and Public Relations

Improving Outcomes Through Personalized Medicine

No. 36 | 28/06/2017 | by Koh

How can the individual molecular origins of a disease be used to achieve enhancements in prevention, diagnosis and, above all, therapy? This question is the conference theme of an international meeting on personalized medicine with top-class specialists on July 3-4, 2017, at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg.

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The concept of personalized medicine is that each patient should receive treatment that is tailored as much as possible to his or her individual disease. Oncology has had a pioneering role in this area. In cancer medicine, drugs that are only prescribed for patients whose tumor cells exhibit a specific molecular characteristic were developed for the first time. By now it has become increasingly clear that individual molecular make-up is also crucial for the course of the disease in cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and infectious diseases.

The goal of a German-Israeli partnership in the area of personalized medicine is to use these individual variations in the molecular origins of disease to derive enhancements in the prevention, diagnosis and, most importantly, treatment. Partners in this collaborative project are the five German Helmholtz Centers of Health Research* and the Israeli Ministry of Science, Technology and Space (MOST).

Helmholtz researchers, their Israeli collaboration partners and top-class international scientists from the field of personalized medicine will meet for a two-day symposium at the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) July 3-4 in Heidelberg. A central part of the meeting will be the presentation of collaborative projects, which are jointly led by an Israeli scientist and a Helmholtz researcher.

For example, Stefan Wiemann from the DKFZ and Adit Ben Baruch from Tel Aviv University are investigating whether specific inflammation-promoting substances inhibit antitumor immunity in an extremely aggressive type of breast cancer. The goal of the researchers is to understand the interactions between various immune regulators and to use drugs to specifically direct the immune system to the desired course.

Many proteins in our cells are coupled to certain glucose molecules. In the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease, these glucose attachments are often altered. Merav Shmueli and Stefan Lichtenthaler from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Bonn and Daniel Segal from Tel Aviv University are investigating whether these altered glucose patterns can be used as diagnostic markers for early-stage Alzheimer's dementia and which role they play in the development of the disease.

"Numerous factors – of the host as well as of the pathogenic agent – also influence the disease course and therapy outcomes in infectious diseases," says Michael Manns from Hannover Medical School (MHH). Sepsis, the body's generalized response to infection, often leads to death. Physicians know today that the immune status of sepsis patients varies widely. While some patients show an overwhelming immune response, the immune system in others is weak. Mihai Netea from Nijmegen University Hospital in the Netherlands presents a personalized approach that takes account of these events. In this way, he aims to develop customized supporting immunotherapies that can save the lives of patients with this life-threatening condition.

Intensive ethical and legal debates revolve around the comprehensive genome analyses that are used in personalized medicine. One of the most important aspects is the question how to deal with additional medical findings, i.e., indications of treatable or preventable diseases or also of diseases that are untreatable or inheritable. Should there be an obligation to notify patients of these findings? How do researchers handle findings responsibly? Eva Winkler from the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg will outline the current state of discussions in her talk.

In addition, famous speakers such as cancer geneticist Anne-Lise Boressen-Dale of Oslo University Hospital, genome researcher Mike Snyder from Stanford University, and system biologist Luis Serrano Pubul from the Center for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona will give overview lectures to present their work.

Journalists are welcome to attend the meeting.

* DKFZ Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (German Cancer Research Center)
MDC Max Delbrück Centrum (Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine)
DZNE Deutsches Zentrum für neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases)
HMGU Helmholtz Zentrum München (German Research Center for Environmental Health)
HZI Helmholtz Zentrum für Infektionsforschung (Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research)

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institute in Germany. At DKFZ, more than 1,000 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. The staff of the Cancer Information Service (KID) offers information about the widespread disease of cancer for patients, their families, and the general public. Jointly with Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ has established the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg, where promising approaches from cancer research are translated into the clinic. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center is an important contribution to improving the chances of cancer patients. DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.

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