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Erwin Schrödinger Prize 2008 Goes to the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin


A Berlin research team led by Professor Erich E. Wanker of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany, has been awarded this year's Erwin Schrödinger Prize for creating a unique "connection scheme" showing for the first time how thousands of human proteins - the building blocks and machines of life - interact with each other. The prize, endowed with 50 000 euros, will be awarded by the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, of which the MDC is a member, at its General Assembly on September 11, 2008. Along with Professor Wanker*, the prizewinners are Dr. Ulrich Stelzl (now at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Genetics, Berlin), Christian Hänig, Dipl.-Ing. (MDC), Gautam Chaurasia, M.Sc. (Humboldt University Berlin and MDC), and Dr. Matthias Futschik (Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin). Interactions between proteins are of great interest for understanding disease mechanisms and for developing new drugs. Moreover, with their help, researchers can detect disease-relevant genes.

The researchers performed more than 25 million single experiments to see whether specific proteins work with each other. This way they succeeded in creating a map showing 3 200 protein interactions between 1 700 proteins. Furthermore, they were able to identify 195 proteins and their cooperation partners that have been linked to different diseases and to assign 342 not previously characterized proteins to already known signaling pathways.

The extensive studies on human protein interactions only became possible with a special technique which Professor Wanker, Dr. Stelzl and Christian Hänig developed six years ago. In this method, yeast cells are employed to identify the binding partners of the proteins.

"We have laid the foundation for a comprehensive connection scheme of the human body. The map helps us understand the functions of proteins and the complex processes in our cells," explained Professor Wanker, who directed the study. The researchers published their results in 2005 in the journal Cell (Vol. 122, No. 6, September 23, 2005, pp. 957-968). The scientists supplemented the robotics study with a large-scale database project on protein interactions.

The prize is named after the Austrian physicist and Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger (1887 Vienna - 1961 Vienna). The annual prize is conferred alternately by the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany and by the Helmholtz Association. The prize honors outstanding scientific research or innovative technological achievements.

Source: Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)