Dr. Markus Bender conducts research into blood clotting disorders. The biomedicine specialist from Würzburg received the Bayer Thrombosis Research Award 2015 for his work on a rare genetic condition.
One slip while chopping vegetables, and it happens – the tip of your finger is bleeding. Our bodies have a clever way of quickly closing the wound: miniscule disc-shaped blood platelets called thrombocytes collect at the edges of the wound and form a tiny plaster. The cells change their shape and aggregate, preventing any more blood from being lost. This is how our bodies deal with minor wounds. In children suffering from Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, however, this mechanism does not work properly. Their blood has a low platelet count, and the cells are also too small. The young patients bleed easily and often suffer from a weakened immune system and skin conditions such as eczema.
“The condition is caused by a gene mutation,” explains Dr. Markus Bender, a biomedicine specialist at the University of Würzburg. The precise mechanisms responsible for this genetic disease leading to a malformation of the platelets were previously unknown. The 35-year-old researcher and his colleagues have now unlocked this mystery. The key is a protein called profilin-1 which stabilizes the skeleton of the cell, ensuring that the platelets take their usual disc form and are able to interconnect to form a clot. The maturing platelets in Wiskott-Aldrich patients lack normally localized profilin-1, which causes a change in the structure of the cell skeleton. These are the findings of the research done by Bender’s team, and this could mean new approaches for early diagnosis and treatment of a condition that often has a very poor prognosis.
Bender’s research has earned him the Bayer Thrombosis Research Award. The EUR 30,000 prize is awarded in recognition of outstanding achievements by young scientists in the field of thrombosis research. “Dr. Bender’s research combines fundamental issues with important clinical questions,” says Dr. Frank Misselwitz, Head of Cardiovascular and Coagulation Clinical Research at Bayer. Misselwitz is one of the sponsors of the thrombosis award, along with Dr. Dagmar Kubitza and Dr. Elisabeth Perzborn. In 2009, the three Bayer researchers won the German Future Prize and used the EUR 250,000 prize money to set up the thrombosis award for young scientists. Bayer doubled this starting capital. The award was presented for the first time in 2013.
“I intend to use the prize money to raise the profile of my work, and to pursue research ideas that are exciting but also possibly a little risky,” says Bender. The German research community has also given Bender a place in the renowned Emmy Noether Program, which will enable him to spend five years establishing his own team of young scientists. This was one of the reasons he came back to Germany after spending two years at Harvard Medical School in the United States. “I had a great time. Boston is a Mecca for research,” he says. “But the conditions for pursuing a scientific career are currently more attractive in Germany.”
HUMBOLDT SCHOLARSHIP HOLDERS GET TO KNOW BAYER
The Other Side of Science
Young scientists often see few points of overlap between industry and academic research. “For me, industry was a kind of black box,” says Dr. Peter Lundquist, a plant biochemist from the United States who is currently completing a postdoctorate at the University of Düsseldorf. However, unlike most up-and-coming researchers, he has had the chance to gain a real insight into the chemical industry. That was possible thanks to a research scholarship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
Each year, the Bayer Science Foundation funds ten of these scholarships. They give highly qualified young scientists from all over the world the opportunity to spend up to two years working at a research institute in Germany. In addition to participating in the Humboldt Foundation’s program, the Bayer Humboldt Fellows also take part in exclusive Bayer events and are assigned an experienced Bayer researcher to act as their mentor. Lundquist has met several times with his mentor, Dr. Michael Metzlaff from Bayer Innovation Relations. “He opened my eyes to how dynamic industrial research actually is and what outstanding scientific work is being done there,” says Lundquist. He is currently focusing on fundamental research, studying specific proteins in plant cells that are found in the membranes of chloroplasts – the organelles in which photosynthesis occurs. Thanks to his insight into research at Bayer, Lundquist can now see himself switching to the industrial sector in the future.
BAYER SUPPORTS NCL FOUNDATION
Raising Awareness of Childhood Dementia
Educational initiative sends practice-oriented teaching package on the genetics of rare illnesses into senior high school classes.
Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL), also known as Batten disease, is a serious, hereditary metabolic disorder that causes childhood dementia. The condition affects approximately 700 children in Germany and leads to a long-drawn-out death. The primary objective of the Hamburg-based NCL Foundation is to raise awareness of the rare disease among the younger generation. The foundation’s educational initiative receives funding from the School Support Program of the Bayer Science & Education Foundation to support its special teaching ideas, which encourage schoolchildren to take a long-term interest in science and progress. The NCL Foundation has worked together with cooperation partners to develop a practice-oriented teaching package for senior high school classes to raise students’ awareness of the genetic background to NCL and other rare conditions. At the same time, this initiative also makes clear to them the importance of this gathered knowledge for medicine in general, provides insights into medical professions and also throws up ethical issues. At the end of the course, the final year students themselves become active and organize an information campaign or fund-raising event. In May, the NCL Foundation also won second place in the Bayer Cares Foundation’s Aspirin Social Award 2015.