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Max Delbrück Medal for Stem Cell Researcher Professor Hans Schöler

The stem cell researcher Professor Hans Schöler of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine, Münster, has been honored in Berlin with the Max Delbrück Medal. Hans Schöler, a leading scientist internationally in the field of stem cell research, received the medal for his research on the reprogramming of neural stem cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Pluripotent stem cells can give rise to each of the more than 200 cell types of an organism. That is why targeted, induced generation of these cells via reprogramming in the laboratory is of such great interest to researchers. They hope to be able to utilize these “all-rounder” cells in the future for the therapy of serious diseases.

Professor Schöler was the first scientist to show that instead of a cocktail of four genes, one single gene – the Oct-4 gene – is sufficient to reprogram neural stem cells into such all-rounder cells. In his laudatory speech, Professor Helmut Kettenmann of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, emphasized that Professor Schöler had already identified the Oct-4 gene as main regulator more than twenty years ago. One of Professor Schöler’s hopes is that in potential therapeutic applications of iPS cells in the future there will be less risk of transferring cancer precursor cells.

The jury also referred to the second research focus of Professor Schöler – mammalian germ line cells (egg and sperm cells). In 2003 he and his team succeeded for the first time in developing egg cells from mouse embryonic stem cells. This finding caused a great stir because the question arose whether human egg cells produced in the Petri dish could one day be used in fertility clinics. It has since been established that human pluripotent stem cells develop at least into precursors of egg and sperm cells. Using these precursor cells, scientists investigate the development of germ line cells.

Vice versa, however, researchers are also seeking to use egg cells to reprogram somatic cells. Professor Schöler pointed out that just this month researchers in the U.S. reported that they had found a new way to create pluripotent human stem cells. They inserted the nucleus of an adult skin cell alongside the nucleus of the original human egg cell. From this a blastocyst developed, from which the researchers in turn extracted embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to generate different cell types.

By reprogramming somatic cells scientists can also study the genetic basis of certain forms of infertility. To achieve this, Professor Schöler uses germ line cells in his laboratory, which he derives from human embryonic stem cells.

Hans Schöler was born in Toronto, Canada in 1953. He studied biology in Heidelberg and received his PhD degree in 1985 at the Center for Molecular Biology at the University of Heidelberg (ZMBH). From 1986-1988 he was a research group leader at Boehringer Mannheim (now Roche) in Tutzing, and from then until 1991 he was a research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen.

From 1991 to 1999 he was a research group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg and completed his Habilitation in 1994 at the University of Heidelberg. In 1999 he went to the U.S. where he held a chair in Reproductive Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Since 2004 he has been director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine, Münster, and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Münster. Since 2009 he has also been an associate professor at the Medical School of Hannover (MHH).

In addition, since 2004 Professor Schöler has been a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. Since 2005 he has also been chairman of the board of the Competence Network Stem Cell Research NRW, a member of the North Rhine-Westphalia Academy of Sciences and the Central Ethic Commission for Stem Cell Research (ZES) and since 2010 a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences (BBAW) and the Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz. In 2008 he was awarded the Robert Koch Prize.

The Max Delbrück Medal, awarded annually since 1992, is presented to outstanding scientists on the occasion of the "Berlin Lecture on Molecular Medicine", which the MDC organizes together with other Berlin research institutions* and Bayer HealthCare. The conferral of the award takes place in conjunction with a lecture given by the award recipient – the Berlin Lecture.

The first medal recipient was Professor Günter Blobel, who later received the Nobel Prize in Medicine. In 2010 the medal was awarded to the American molecular biologist Professor Susan Lindquist from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

The medal is named after the physicist, biologist and Nobel Prize laureate (1969) Max Delbrück (1906 Berlin - 1981 Pasadena, USA), who is considered one of the founders of molecular biology. The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine was also named after Max Delbrück. It was founded in Berlin-Buch in 1992 and is a member of the Helmholtz Association.

*Bayer HealthCare, Charite – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Humboldt University Berlin (HU), Free University of Berlin (FU), Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (FMP), Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, German Rheuma Research Center Berlin (DRFZ).

Professor Hans Schöler (Photo/Copyright: Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine, Münster)

Barbara Bachtler
Press Department
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
in the Helmholtz Association
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