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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.


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)

With more than 3,000 employees, the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) is Germany’s largest biomedical research institute. DKFZ scientists identify cancer risk factors, investigate how cancer progresses and develop new cancer prevention strategies. They are also developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to questions relating to cancer.

To transfer promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improve the prognosis of cancer patients, the DKFZ cooperates with excellent research institutions and university hospitals throughout Germany:

  • National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT, 6 sites)
  • German Cancer Consortium (DKTK, 8 sites)
  • Hopp Children's Cancer Center (KiTZ) Heidelberg
  • Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON Mainz) - A Helmholtz Institute of the DKFZ
  • DKFZ-Hector Cancer Institute at the University Medical Center Mannheim
  • National Cancer Prevention Center (jointly with German Cancer Aid)
The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.


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