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Up-and-coming researchers in life sciences

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Forderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. : 02 November, 2002  (Company News)
Fungal infections pose a serious threat to patients with weakened immune systems. In the past few years, candida albicans has become the most common germ for mycosis, and the number of cases is on the rise. This widespread member of the yeast family, has already developed strong resistance to antimycotic drugs commonly prescribed.
Medication intended not to eradicate the fungus but merely to prevent it from invading bodily tissue should, on the other hand, prevent it from building up a resistance. In support of this approach: dangerous varieties of the fungus form hyphae, similar to the way the mycelium of wild mushrooms grows thread-like extensions into the tissue of its host. Preventing this growth inhibits the spread of the fungus. Marc Rhm, first prize winner of the Hugo Geiger Prize, researched four previously unknown proteins occurring in the virulent hyphal form of the fungus, which are essential to its growth. He examined to what extent these proteins could be targeted by newly developed antimycotic agents. This is essential in being able to claim any future patent rights.

Second prize was awarded to another Master's thesis originating at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB. In his research in Hanover, Christian Schmalz succeeded for the first time in isolating an enzyme from bacteria that decompose marine chitin. This biopolymer, occurring abundantly in the exoskeletons of insects, is also present in crab shells and can be converted into chitosan through the use of enzymes. A biotechnologically-produced derivative is already widely used as a thickening agent in low-fat foods, as well as in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, dyes or in wastewater technology. The new process, already registered for a patent, may one day produce higher-quality chitosan.

Second prize was also awarded to Ines Westphal, whose cooperative research with the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT investigates the molecular traces left by cells moving across artificial and biological surfaces. Through her work in this fledgling research field, Westphal was able to show that most substrate-grown animal cells leave behind nanostructures which until now have been largely ignored by scientists. These membrane-encased biotubes and patches function here serve as a fingerprint, allowing the membrane of the originating cell to be characterized without touching or damaging the cell itself. This procedure opens up new possibilities for many diagnostic methods.

Hugo-Geiger Prize, promoting talented young scientists
The Bavarian government instituted this prize three years ago, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. It is named forBavarian secretary of state Hugo Geiger, patron of the inaugural assembly of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft on 26 March 1949. The Hugo-Geiger Prize is awarded for outstanding, application-oriented doctoral theses or dissertations in the field of life sciences. The prizewinning papers are selected on the basis of scientific quality, industrial or economic relevance, novelty, and an interdisciplinary approach. The work must be directly related to a Fraunhofer institute or have been written at one. This year, the winner of the first prize received 3,000 euros in prize money, and two second prizes were awarded, each worth 2,000 euros.
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