Antibodies from a test tube

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Prof. Dr. Alexander Steinkasserer (left), Department of Skin and Venereal Diseases and Head of Immunomodulatory Department, biochemist Prof. Dr. Maxim Berezovski (center) of the University of Ottawa and FAU President Prof. Dr. Joachim Hornegger. (Image: FAU / Luisa Macharowsky)

Humboldt award winner Prof. Dr. Maxim Berezovski is conducting research at FAU into synthetic antibodies for treating immune disorders 

FAU welcomes another Humboldt award winner to its midst: Biochemist Prof. Dr. Maxim Berezovski from the University of Ottawa has received the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and is using the award to continue his research on so-called ‘synthetic antibodies’ at FAU. The aim of the research is to improve treatments for autoimmune diseases. Often called ‘synthetic antibodies’, aptamers are synthetically-produced strands of short single-strand DNA or RNA. They bind to proteins, for example bacterial toxins or virus particles, as effectively as antibodies from the immune system. This means they are already used as medication, among others for treating macular degeneration in the eye, which can lead to blindness. Prof. Dr. Maxim Berezovski is the world’s leading expert on aptamers. Among other achievements, he has successfully altered aptamers so that they can identify specific cells, viruses and proteins.

Synthetic antibodies regulate the immune system

At FAU, Berezovski will be conducting research in conjunction with Prof. Dr. Alexander Steinkasserer at the Department of Immune Modulation. Steinkasserer and his staff are investigating the characteristics of a molecule with a rather cryptic name – ‘soluble CD83’. This molecule could be used to treat autoimmune diseases and prevent transplants from being rejected. The working group at FAU has already successfully inhibited paralysis caused by human multiple sclerosis in animal models using a version of sCD83 manufactured using biotechnology and prevented the rejection of heart, skin and cornea transplants in in vivo models. This effect is triggered when so-called regulatory T cells (Tregs) are produced or multiplied in the body. Tregs regulate the immune system and thus prevent it from attacking the body.

However, there are no synthetic antibodies, or aptamers, available to date that can modify Tregs. The objective of Prof. Steinkasserer and Prof. Berezovski is to develop specific neutralising DNA aptamers for CD83 that stimulate the generation of Treg cells that inhibit autoimmune diseases and prevent the rejection of transplants.

The research award winner: Focus on biomolecular interactions

Dr. Maxim Berezovski is full professor at the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Ottawa, where he is director of the Bioanalytical and Molecular Interaction Laboratory, the Cellular Imaging and Cytometry Facility, and the John L. Holmes Mass Spectrometry Facility. Prof. Berezovski completed his Master’s degree in biochemistry from Novosibirsk State University, Russia in 1994. He subsequently worked for six years as managing director of a pharmaceutical company in Russia before completing a doctoral degree in bioanalytical chemistry at York University in Canada.

His research focuses on improving the understanding of molecular processes in cancer and immune disorders. In his projects, he investigates fundamental biomolecular interactions and uses this knowledge to develop new biosensors and bioanalytical methods.

The Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award

Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation grants around 20 Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Awards to internationally renowned researchers who are expected to make a lasting contribution to their field with outstanding research achievements. The value of the prize awarded to the winner is 45,000 euros. Recipients of the award come to Germany for up to a year to work on a research project of their choosing in collaboration with colleagues from their discipline.

Update: Interview with Prof. Berezovski

You find an in-depth interview with Prof. Berezovski here.

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Alexander Steinkasserer
Tel.: 09131/85-36725