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Life science technologies from the Max Planck Society at BioVaria

On 22 and 23 May, Max Planck Innovation will present two promising inventions at the BioVaria technology fair in Munich, one of which is a new therapy based on adult stem cells that makes continuous skin regeneration and the sustainable growth of new hair possible. An innovative diagnostic approach allows early non-invasive detection of lung cancer by means of a simple breath test. The technology transfer organization of the Max Planck Society is looking for industrial partners at the fair to develop its patented technologies to market maturity.

Human skin, along with the hair roots it contains, continuously regenerates and repairs itself. Old cells die off and are constantly being replaced by new ones. However, this ability is affected by natural processes such as ageing and hereditary hair loss as well as by burns and wounds. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing have now found a way to artificially grow skin cells and introduce them into living organisms. The technique is based on the use of adult skin stem cells, which are responsible for the regeneration and healing of skin in humans. These readily available stem cells, which can still develop into different cell types of the various skin layers, are obtained from a skin biopsy and are then grown in a Petri dish. The novelty of the method lies particularly in the nature of the nutrient medium in which the cells are grown. It is a special Matrigel to which several growth factors as well as specific inhibitors of cell-regulating proteins have been added to create an environment that promotes the development and growth of cells with hair follicles. Hair follicles are structures that surround the hair roots, anchor the hair shafts in the skin, nourish them and promote their growth. After introducing these cells into living organisms, the researchers observed that the artificially cultured cells maintain their ability to regenerate, making continuous hair growth possible. The new method could potentially find applications in the fields of tissue transplantation, the treatment of burns and chronic wounds and the treatment of natural hair loss.

Furtermore, a new diagnosis tool will be presented: Persistent cough or shortness of breath can be symptoms of various diseases, including lung cancer. If lung cancer is suspected, X-rays and CT scans can provide further information. However, to diagnose lung cancer definitively, it is usually necessary to resort to invasive methods. For example, a tube is guided into the lungs through the airways or a hollow needle through the chest wall to remove small tissue samples from the lungs, which are then examined. These methods, however, are very unpleasant for patients and in extreme cases can result in local destruction of lung tissue. A new non-invasive method developed at the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research now makes it possible to diagnose lung cancer based on a patient’s “respiratory score”. The new technology is based on two genes, GATA6 and NKX2-1, which play a key role in the development of the lungs, i.e. in the formation and maintenance of pulmonary tissue. The products of the two genes occur predominantly in the embryonic isoform (Em) during the early embryonic phase, and later in the adult isoform (Ad). Scientists at the MPI in Bad Nauheim have now discovered that lung cancer patients have a high percentage of the Em isoform. The researchers have developed a test based on this finding. Expired air is analyzed to determine the ratio of Em to Ad isoforms with the help of a newly developed algorithm (LC/Lung Cancer Score). Thanks to the high sensitivity of the method, it can detect 98% of patients who actually have lung cancer. The new method could provide an alternative to conventional methods for diagnosing lung cancer. In particular, it could improve the detection of lung cancer in its early stages, as CT scans, e.g., are very expensive and do not provide a definitive diagnosis.

Max Planck Innovation is looking for licensing partners to develop its technologies to maturity and market them. “Basic research at the Institutes of the Max Planck Society has already produced numerous innovations that have found applications in the biomedical field. The best known among them is the FLASH technique, which is used worldwide for fast MRI scans. If further developed by industrial partners, the two technologies presented here could contribute to the wellbeing of many patients,” says Dr Katharina Miller, patent and licence manager at Max Planck Innovation. BioVaria in Munich brings together European research institutions with a view to translating their research results into practice. The two-day event, which is taking place for the tenth time, showcases a host of highly innovative technologies to an audience of potential investors, cooperation partners and licensees from the international biopharmaceutical industry. Details on BioVaria can be found at www.biovaria.org.

About Max Planck Innovation

As the technology transfer organization of the Max Planck Society, Max Planck Innovation acts as a link between industry and basic research. Our interdisciplinary team provides advice and support for scientists in evaluating inventions, applying for patents and founding companies. We offer the industry a central point of access to the innovations of the Max Planck Institutes. We thus provide the important function of transferring the results of basic research into commercially viable and socially beneficial products. www.max-planck-innovation.de

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