First time Award of the MTZ®Foundation at the Max Planck Institute in Münster

The MTZ®Foundation presented the MTZ®-MPI-Award 2009 to the PhD student of the Max Planck Institut in Münster, Jeong Beom Kim, on March 20, 2009 as a recognition for his outstanding scientific achievement. The South Korean scientist Kim is the first MTZ®-MPI-Award laureate. The MTZ®Foundation was established by the married couple Monika and Thomas Zimmermann. The fundamental goal of their commitment is to foster young scientists who search for causes and correlations of diseases. Therefore, Monika and Thomas Zimmermann have decided to honour a scientist of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster on a yearly basis. The newly established prize is endowed with 2,500 € and enables the award recipients to continue their research work through postgraduate studies and complementary studies as well as internships abroad.

The award-winning work of Jeong Beom Kim, „Pluripotent stem cells induced from adult neural stem cells by reprogramming with two factors“, published in Nature, build upon the latest advancements in stem cell research and demonstrates how fast research in this field forges ahead. Only two years ago Japanese scientist succeeded in reprogramming adult skin cells of a mouse with minimal tricks to a state in which they resembled embryonic stem cells, which can build more than 200 cell types of the body. Less than one year later this method was shown to work with human skin cells, too. To generate these so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (also iPS), scientists used neither egg cells nor embryos. A cocktail of three to four genes sufficed to transfer the skin cells into similar Jacks-of-all-trades as are embryonic stem cells. Yet the problem is that the four factors were introduced into the cells with retroviruses. These viruses function as perfect gene taxis, yet their disadvantage is that they increase the risk of cancer.

Jeong Beom Kim and other colleagues of Prof. Hans Schöler's department now discovered in mice studies that so-called neural stem cells from the brain need less factors and therefore less retroviruses for their reprogramming. The risk of cancer therefore decreases. Neural stem cells are precursor cells that can develop into the various cell types of the nervous system, such as neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, and can be relatively easily cultured. Kim and colleagues could demonstrate that two of the four genes from the cocktail are sufficient to reprogram these stem cells.

There is, therefore, every indication that the techniques will be refined in the foreseeable future. Aim of the research is to find approaches by which adult body cells can be reprogrammed to pluripotent stem cells without the use of viruses. Only then can, with the aid of stem cells, therapies be developed for so far incurable diseases. Such therapies would not only be effective but also sage enough to one day apply them to human.

Jeong Beom Kim (34) holds a bachelor of the Dongguk University in Seoul (Südkorea) in Biology. After his master studies at the Yonsei University in Seoul in Medical Science he continued to worked for one year as a scientific assistant at the Cancer Metastasis Research Center of the Yonsei University in Seoul. In October 2005 Kim came to Münster and received a stipend in the graduierte program „Interdepartmental Graduate Programme for Experimental Life Sciences (iGEL)“ of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and the Medical Faculty of the Westphalian Wilhelms-University Münster and of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster.

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