No. 8/ September 29, 1995

Weighty Genes

Obesity: A matter of failed cell-communication

Gourmands have always wondered, why some people may live on the fat of the land without putting on weight, while others get the bill for every little "sin". Prof. Jeffrey Friedman of the Rockefeller University, New York, unveiled at least part of the answer by identifying the obesity-gene. Mice mutants, which have a defect in this gene, are unable produce a protein called leptin. They grow fatter than healthy animals, even if both consume the same amount of calories. Friedman showed that the protein-product of the intact gene makes these animals rapidly degrade their fat stores. Nevertheless, Friedman stressed on Thursday, 28 September 1995, at a symposium on "Complex Genetic Diseases" at the MAX DELBRÜCK CENTER FOR MOLECULAR MEDICINE (MDC) BERLIN BUCH that inherited predisposition for obesity in humans is likely due to the effect of many different genes.

No. 7/ September 29, 1995

Fatal Invasions

Viruses and Cancer

In the last 30 years, it has become evident that certain groups of viruses play an important role in the development of cancer. Cancer of the cervix, the second common cancer in females next to breast cancer, is known to be induced by specific types of papillomaviruses. Other members of this group cause common warts. Hepatitis B virus is responsible for a high proportion of liver cancer, a certain form of leukaemia is caused by HTL virus, Epstein Barr virus is involved in the genesis of different human tumours such as Burkitt´s lymphoma, or cancer of the nasopharynx and cancer of lymphnodes. "However, none of these viral infections is sufficient per se to induce cancer. In every instance, additional genetic changes in the hereditary material (DNA) of the host cell appear to be required", stated Harald zur Hausen, a virologist at the  Deutsche Krebsforschungszentrum (German Cancer Research Centre) in Heidelberg during a meeting on "Complex Genetic Diseases" (on Friday, September 29) in Berlin-Buch. The two-day meeting took place at the MAX DELBRÜCK CENTER FOR MOLECULAR MEDICINE (MDC) BERLIN-BUCH, a young national biomedical research laboratory in the new länder.

No. 6/ September 29, 1995

Loss of Biological Ties

Why Cancer Cells start to migrate

Cells normally possess a molecular glue (adhesion molecules) which keeps them together via specific junctions. Cancer cells seem to have lost this "molecular glue" which allows them to travel to other tissues to form metastases, the life threatening off shoots of cancer cells. In recent years, molecular and cell biologist have discovered various molecular structures that play a crucial role in this cell adhesion and other molecules which are associated with the development of metastasis. In addition, tumour suppressor genes have been identified which prevent cells from being transformed into cancer cells. They also participate in setting up cell junctions. On the other hand, oncogenes - genes that have been genetically altered and are able to induce cancerogenesis - destabilize cell junctions. These new findings suggest that tumour suppressor gene products also seem to play an important role in controlling invasive processes and the development of metastasis, cell biologist Walter Birchmeier, Professor at the MAX DELBRÜCK CENTER FOR MOLECULAR MEDICINE (MDC) BERLIN-BUCH, told an audience of more than 200 scientists at a meeting on "Complex Genetic Diseases" at the MDC in Berlin-Buch.

No. 5/ September 28, 1995

CEPH and Genethon - French Genome Research

In France, there has never been national policy of human genome research. Instead, the Nobel Prize winner Jean Dausset and Daniel Cohen, at that time Dausset's assistant, started their own, privately financed project by founding the Centre d'Etude du Polymorphisme Humaine (CEPH) in 1982. They set up an extensive collection of genetic material (DNA) from families with several members which may be used free of charge by genecists from all over the world. In 1991, the French Muscular Dystrophy Foundation (AFM) and the CEPH founded the genome research institute near Paris Genethon. In its high-tech laboratories, a whole set of robots and computers are used to accelerate the exploration of human DNA. Within a few years, scientists from the two institutes were able to construct maps of the genome which are an important prerequisite for the search of specific disease genes.

No. 4/ September 28, 1995

Many roads lead to the human genome

Jean Weissenbach: Disease gene research would profit from coordinating strategies

Development of new biochemical tools has always been an essential prerequisite for progress in human genome research. One of the best examples may be the work of Dr. Jean Weissenbach, who is the scientific director of the privately funded genome research institute, Genethon, near Paris. Since 1991, when the french molecular biologist started his project at Genethon, he established a collection of 5,300 pieces of DNA (microsatellite markers), of which he constructed the first extensive genetic map of the human genome. "Good genome maps highly accelerate the search for disease genes", stressed Dr. Weissenbach at a symposium on "Complex Genetic Diseases" at the MAX DELBRÜCK CENTER FOR MOLECULAR MEDICINE (MDC) BERLIN-BUCH on Thursday, 28 September 1995.

No. 3/ September 28, 1995

Gene-Puzzle

Complex Genetic Diseases and Genome Research

The genetics of complex diseases with widespread prevalence, such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases, to a great extent still remains a puzzle which scientists and medical doctors hope to better understand by looking deeper into the human genome. Genome research will Iikely also result in the development of new diagnostic tools and treatments. This view has been expressed by scientists at a press conference (on Thursday, September 28) at a meeting on Complex Genetic Diseases at the MAX DELBRÜCK CENTER FOR MOLECULAR MEDICINE (MDC) BERLIN-BUCH), a young national research laboratory in the new länder. They also expressed their hope that the initiative of the research secretary Jürgen Rüttgers in Bonn, who set up a German genome project last summer, will stimulate research that has long been neglected in this country.

No. 2/ August 31, 1995

Cell Talk

German Biologists unveil essential signalling System for Embryogenesis and Cancer

Research on the phenomenon of communication is often thought to be an exclusive domain of social scientists and psychologists. However, the mechanisms of information and signal exchange between the billions of cells composing the human body are also a central topic in the biological field. One such signalling system was unveiled by Dr. Friedhelm Bladt at the MAX-DELBRÜCK-CENTER FOR MOLECULAR MEDIClNE (MDC) BERLIN-BUCH, a national research laboratory in the Northeast of Berlin. These results have now been published in the British journal NATURE (Vol. 376, No. 6543, p. 768-772). The molecular biologist recently identified a signaling system which directs the migration of muscle cells during certain phases of embryogenesis. "As it appears this molecule also plays an important role in the development of cancer''', stresses Bladt.

No. 1/ April 21, 1995

Hopes, Hypes and Hurdles of Gene Therapy

3rd International Symposium on Human Gene Therapy in Berlin

Expectations of future prospects for gene therapy are high, though successful gene therapy as a routine medical practice is still a long way off. "Fortunately, a vast majority of the scientific community is aware of both the technical and practical limitations of current approaches to gene therapy", said Dr. Inder Verma from the Salk Institute in San Diego/USA in his opening lecture "Gene Therapy - Hopes, Hypes and Hurdles" at the 3rd International Symposium on Gene Therapy in Berlin at the MAX DELBRÜCK CENTER FOR MOLECULAR MEDICINE (MDC) BERLIN BUCH on Friday (April 21st, 1995). However, the intense efforts of basic scientists and clinicians should hasten the transfer of bench science to bedside, Dr. Verma said. Since the first gene therapy trials in 1990 in the USA, over 100 more have been initiated, with most of the trials currently in progress involving treatments for cancer. Dr Verma is a molecular biologist and virologist who heads a special committee of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that reviews the activities of the Recombinant Advisory Committee (RAC) that evaluates clinical research protocols.