A Brief Account of the BIH Symposium 2018

The second BIH Symposium "Exploring Systems Medicine" took place in Berlin on 16 + 17 March. Internationally renowned scientists spoke in four sessions on "The 3 Rs of Tissue Repair: Replace - Restore - Rejuvenate". The lectures were followed by a lively exchange of scientific ideas with researchers and clinicians. Also part of the event was the award ceremony for the BIH Excellence Award for Sex and Gender Aspects in Health Research.

 

Impressions of the event

Selected photos of the BIH Symposium can be found here.

 

Systems medicine has the potential to transform science and healthcare by accelerating discoveries and their application.Through integrating different disciplines and holistic approaches, systems medicine will provide insights into biological concepts and the complex nature of diseases. With this year’s theme “The 3 Rs of Tissue Repair: Replace – Restore – Rejuvenate” the BIH has brought together scientists and clinicians from the Berlin scientific community with international researchers for an in-depth exchange of ideas on the biological mechanisms behind tissue damage and corresponding repair mechanisms. The scientific focus was on concepts and mechanisms that lead to cell reprogramming, gene silencing, and cell aging. The scientific findings show that health and illness are highly dependent on cellular repair mechanisms and, at the same time, provide the basis for the development of new treatment options.

Replace – Restore – Rejuvenate

The first session focused on genetic and cellular processes involved in the development of cancer, diabetes, and neurological disorders and on how to repair the resulting tissue damage. During the lunch break, participants continued the vivid discussions that arose in the sessions, before the focus shifted to the topic of neuronal cell reprogramming. In the third session, the speakers addressed the subject of gene silencing and the question of how genetic methods, such as CRISPR/Cas, can be used to develop possible therapeutic approaches. Other research work undertaken by early-career scientists was discussed in depth in a subsequent poster session. The fourth session focused on cell aging and approaches to protecting cells from aging in order to slow down or even prevent the development of diseases.

Information on the speakers is available here.

Do We Need a Cultural Change in Biomedical Research?

Following the scientific presentations, there was a panel discussion among invited speakers led by Clemens A. Schmitt, member of the BIH Scientific Committee and one of the main organizers of the event. The question was raised what conditions need to be created in order to apply high-quality basic research and the future of the scientific system was discussed. All panelists agreed that openness and curiosity are the key to success in accelerating progress in translational medicine. However, Maike Sander from the University of California San Diego, USA, also pointed out that within the current science system, the hurdles to apply ideas derived from basic research are too high for many scientists, in particular young researchers. Therefore, new infrastructures and frameworks are needed. Jan van Deursen from Mayo Clinic, USA, underlined her statement as follows: “For a true translation you need strong partners who bring in their diverse expertise.” Kristin Baldwin from The Scripps Research Institute, USA, believes that the competitive science system must undergo cultural transformation so that biomedical scientists can cooperate more extensively, rather than strive to achieve their own work objectives and secure their next publication as a lead author.

Is Reproducibility the Key to Translation?

According to Clemens Schmitt, a solid foundation is necessary for putting basic research into practice. He further posed the question as to how this foundation can be ensured when there is no data reproducibility guaranteed. In the opinion of Marius Werning from Standford University, USA, it is not just about reproducibility, since most of the data are most likely correct. “Applications can only be developed if there is a common understanding with regard to the interpretation of the data,” Werning said.

Another point of discussion was the role of model systems for clinical translation and the study designs currently in use. In conclusion, it became clear again that incentive systems will have to be created to provide researchers with a long-term perspective within the science system and to bring basic scientists together with physicians. In his view, this is the only way that translation can work. “This requires people having this vision and institutions like BIH,” Mina J. Missell from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA, said.

BIH Excellence Award for Sex and Gender Aspects in Health Research

The BIH Symposium 2018 was also the venue for the official presentation of the BIH Excellence Award for Sex and Gender Aspects in Health Research to the awardees, Louise Pilote and Rhonda Voskuhl. Both awardees emphasized the importance of integrating sex and gender differences in biomedical research to understand differences in disease development and to develop appropriate treatments. “BIH is one of the few institutes in the world that understands the importance of this topic and recognizes and supports our work in the field,” Rhonda Voskuhl from the University of California, USA said.

The Differentiation Between Sex and Gender

In the course of the ensuing discussion on the subject of sex and gender in research, the two awardees made it clear that great importance must be placed on the differentiation of the terms: “Gender” does not only refer to the categories of “man” and “woman” – gender is also influenced by social and cultural differences. In her research in the field of cardiovascular diseases, Louise Pilote particularly considers social gender differences. So far, most of the approaches in this area of research have focused exclusively on biological sex, neglecting the effects of culturally influenced gender roles. Rhonda Voskuhl’s research, however, stands out due to her study of sex differences in chronic degenerative diseases. She investigates molecular mechanisms in preclinical studies and uses them to develop gender-specific biomarkers for novel therapeutic approaches.

You can find further information on the award and the awardees here.