MTZ®-MPI-Award 2014 to Dr. Peter Reinhardt and Dr. Florian Wessel

On November 20 2014, the MTZ®foundation will award two young scientists, who accomplished their dissertation at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Molecular Biomedicine: Dr. Peter Reinhardt and Dr. Florian Wessel. Reinhardt has developed a modern test assay to investigate neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Wessel deciphered a molecular gateway in inflammation. Since 2009, the MTZ®foundation endows young scientists at the MPI for Molecular Biomedicine with the MTZ®-MPI-Award on a yearly basis. In this way, the founding couple Monika and Thomas Zimmermann wants to foster young persons in their scientific career. The award prize is endowed with 2,500 Euros.

About Dr. Peter Reinhardt:

During his PhD studies within the Departmet of Professor Dr. Hans Schöler, Dr. Peter Reinhardt has developed a modern assay to investigate neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson's disease. To do so, he produced iPS cells from skin cells that originated from Parkinson patients who suffer from the disease due to a mutation. With the iPS technology, cells are set back to a developmentally original state. In the petri dish, iPS cells can be unlimitedly propagated and, for instance, be differentiated into dopamin-producing neurons - those neurons that die during the Parkinson's disease. By this technology, Reinhardt could observe processes that caused cells to death in the petri dish. By using a molecular scissors, the mutation that causes the disease was selectively corrected. Only now, Reinhardt knew for sure that the effects he observed were caused by the Parkinson-evoking mutation. He noticed, among other things, an overactivated stress signaling pathway in the affected cells. When he actively reduced this pathway, cells survived noticeably longer. To make the production of affected nerve cells in the culture dish more cost-effective and more resilient, Peter Reinhardt has in addition discovered a new neural precursor cell type that for its propagation does not depend on expendive additions in the medium and that can be differentiated into neurons within a much shorter time. "This enables us to use human neurons to systematically screen for substances that protect the cells", says Reinhardt.

The high level of innovation of Reinhardt's work is for example shown by the fact that he was invited for the symposium "Falling Walls"in Berlin in 2013. Peter Reinhardt (33) studied Biochemistry at the Friedrich-Schiller University Jena and the Umeå University, Schweden. Thereafter, Reinhardt assumed the PhD position with Professor Dr. Hans Schöler at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine. After the defense of his thesis with the title „Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells for Modeling Neurodegeneration and Drug Discovery“ om January 17, 2014, he first proceeded his work on stem cell-based assays as a postdoc in Münster, and since October 2014 he works at the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD).

About Dr. Florian Wessel:

During his PhD studies in the Department of Professor Dr. Dietmar Vesweber, Dr. Florian Wessel has deciphered a molecular gateway between endothelial cells that is relevant to infection processes. Endothelial cells of the blood vessels regulate not only the essential exchange between tissue and blood, they also control when and how leukocytes, being the immune defense cells of our body, extravagate from the blood to the tissue. The moleczlre Vascular-Endothelial Cadherin (VE-Cadherin) play a crucial role in this process. VE-Cadherin molecules protrude from the cell membrane a build a sort of hook and loop fastener between endothelial cells. To clear an infection, not only leukocytes, but also messenger molecules of the blood plasma have to extravasate from the blood. Leukocytes and messenger molecules are doing this separately at differented places of the vascular system: large openings in the vessel wall let leukocytes pass and small openings allow messenger molecules to pass through. The process of opening and closing of the VE-Cadherin-fastener is regulated by the attachment of phosphate groups to single components (amino acids) of the fastener, particularly to the amino acid 'tyrosin'. By using transgenic mice that were breeded especially for this purpose, Wessel has discovered that passing of leukocytes and of blood plasma molecules is associated with the phospohorylation of different tyrosins. "The molecular mechanisms of these hook-and-loop fasteners were so far investigated in the petri dish, however, the mechanisms that open these fasteners were unclear. We could thus demonstrate in the living organisms that different tyrosins are responsible for different openings," says Florian Wessel.

Florian Wessel (31) completed his Bachelor studies ‚Biosciences’ and his Master studies ‚Molecular Biomedicine' at the Westphalian Wilhelms-University Münster. Wessel spent one semester in his Master studies at the Stanford University, USA. Wessel started his PhD studies in the Department of Professor Dr. Dietmar Vestweber at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in January 2009. Wessel did his PhD in the so-called Fast Track procedure, in which Master and PhD studies are intermeshed. Aim of the Fast Track is to attract particularly well qualified graduates for a career in science. Wessel has successfully defended his work with the title „The Role of VE-cadherin Tyrosine Phosphorylation for the Control of Endothelial Cell Contacts” on Februar 6, 2013. Florian Wessel continues to work in the Department of Professor Dr. Dietmar Vestweber as a postdoc.

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