Since 1979, Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Rammensee has been investigating the interaction of T cells with their antigens. T cells are important components of our immune system and are able to recognize and fight foreign structures. His research focuses on so-called peptides (protein fragments), which are located on the outer envelope of cells. They signal to the immune system whether a body cell is healthy or diseased. When appropriately identified, the T cells are able to recognize changes in the peptides - including mutated peptides such as those found in tumor diseases. This can lead to activation of the immune system and destruction of the tumor cells. With the method developed by Prof. Rammensee, the peptide antigens from viruses and tumor cells recognized by the T cells can be precisely determined. Based on this, the immunotherapy of cancer patients can be individually adapted.
Rammensee's research work is also concerned with the development of vaccines. He already made extraordinary achievements in this field more than 30 years ago:
With colleagues Prof. Dr. Günther Jung and Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Wiesmüller, he was able to show that a component of the bacterial cell membrane can be used as a vaccine booster to induce peptide-specific T cells against the influenza virus. Also together with Prof. Jung as well as Dr. Ingmar Hörr and Dr. Reinhard Obst, he laid the scientific basis for a method to produce mRNA vaccines more than 20 years ago. Therefore, the development of an effective mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 is also based on many years of research by the team around the Tübingen scientist. The German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina is the oldest scientific and medical learned society in the German-speaking world and the oldest permanently existing natural science academy worldwide. He is delighted to be accepted into the academy: "The Leopoldina is an outstanding institution. I feel honored to now be a member."
Another approach is to immunize with the virus-specific peptides recognized by T cells. Peptide vaccinations have not worked efficiently in humans so far. However, if the peptides are combined with the aforementioned vaccine booster - developed in Tübingen - which specifically and effectively activates the immune system, strong T cell responses are also obtained in humans. These T cells can then kill virus-infected cells and stimulate B cells to produce antibodies against the virus. One of Prof. Rammensee's goals is to be able to apply findings from basic research clinically as quickly as possible in order to develop innovative therapeutic approaches and individualized production of modern drugs for the treatment of cancer or for immunotherapies.
Prof. Rammensee is also one of three spokespersons of the so-called "Image-Guided and Functionally Instructed Tumor Therapies" (iFIT) Cluster of Excellence, a research consortium funded by the German Research Foundation. As the only oncological cluster of excellence in Germany, its scientists are conducting research into individualized and innovative cancer therapies, including cancer peptide vaccines.
He has already accompanied three start-ups from his department, CureVac, Immatics Biotechnologies and Synimmune. "You have to give young researchers the freedom to actually develop in the direction of founding a company, if that's what they want," says Rammensee. Encourage, support and critically accompany is his guiding principle.
(Source: Press release UKT)
Hans-Georg Rammensee is Principal Investigator in Research Area C.
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