Last RTG Retreat at Schloss Hornberg, February 2015
Summary Final Report RTG 1331
The RTG 1331 was set up to cover a wide range of biomedical topics, so that the involved doctoral researchers got a broad background on mechanisms, scientific approaches and technical solutions from different areas of disease biology. Examples for interdisciplinary research outcomes resulting from the combination of disciplines in the RTG are the finding i) that DNA repair mechanisms, commonly investigated in tumour biology, play a role in neurodegeneration; ii) that the application of riboswitches, designed for synthetic biology applications, could be practically applied to generate improved models for research in lung disease (e.g asthma); iii) that knowledge from the fields of skin regeneration could be used to understand the hepatic repair response after toxic damage.
Over its runtime, the research of the RTG evolved from initially simple model systems towards the transfer of this knowledge to more complex systems such as 3-dimensional tissue culture, cell-cell interactions in culture dishes or model organisms, and to a transition from single endpoints to more systems-wide approaches that used modern Omics technologies. The broad range of medically-relevant disease biology research topics that was covered by > 140 RTG publications comprises: neurodegeneration (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, as well as neuro-inflammation), infection and immunity (antigen processing and presentation, immune cell migration, bacteria-host cell interactions), tumour biology (DNA damage and repair, oncogene characterization, tumour vaccination), toxicology (epigenetic mechanisms, stem cell models, environmental toxicants of industrial or natural origin; use of transcriptomics to characterize toxicant responses), lung diseases (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma), developmental processes (regeneration of skin, liver, fish fins and growth of neural tissue components) and pharmacological model development (organoids, transgenic mouse models using viral vectors, human cells and their progeny/derivatives).
In six areas, the RTG produced cutting edge research output recognized internationally: i) Development of alternative methods to animal testing (e.g. 3D intestinal organoids; functional tests for human neural differentiation); ii) Advanced imaging approaches (e.g. construction and use of femtosecond pulse-lasers to produce defined DNA lesions); iii) Research on functions of the recently-discovered oncogene DEK; iv) DNA repair in skin and blood cells; v) Development of new cell models (e.g. human neurons) and test systems (e.g. adeno-associated virus based genetic modification of mouse respiratory tract, or assessment of neurite network integrity by high content imaging); vi) Immune response and infection (e.g. the reciprocal interactions of pathogens and host cells; a strong research line addressed the migration of immune cells and the underlying signalling). The RTG was well-integrated with other national and international research. Particularly notable is the interaction with researchers from Baltimore (Johns-Hopkins University (JHU) and NIH). For instance, Thomas Hartung from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at JHU was a direct partner of the RTG. In this function, he hosted students and provided expertise and input for metabolomics, infection biology and development of alternative methods.