OEGMBT: New approaches for the development of antibiotics and cancer treatment, reusing more beverage packaging and the key factor for the beginning of life: awards for young researchers

Five young scientists were honoured for their internationally outstanding work in Salzburg on Tuesday: The Life Science Research Awards Austria 2023 of the Austrian Society for Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology (ÖGMBT) went to Johanna Gassler (formerly IMBA), David Hoi (IMP) and Klemens Kremser (BOKU). The prizes of 3,000 euros each were awarded with the support of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Labour and Economy. Alexander Hanzl (CeMM) and Matthias Hinterndorfer (IMP) received the Life Science PhD Award Austria for their dissertations.

In the category Basic Research, the Life Science Research Award Austria 2023 went to Johanna Gassler for a paper she published during her time at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology IMBA in Vienna.

The key factor for the first steps of life in the fertilised egg cell

In her paper published in Science, Gassler focuses on the first steps of life in a fertilised egg cell (zygote). During the first stages of development, the activation of the zygotic genome is crucial for the development of the organism. Gassler was able to show that the protein Nr5a2 plays a crucial role as a pioneer factor. This mechanism could play a role in all vertebrates. Her findings thus contribute to a better understanding of this early phase of life.

Zygotic genome activation by the totipotency pioneer factor Nr5a2

The three Life Science Research Awards were once again supported by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Economy. Minister for Labour and Economic Affairs Martin Kocher: "Research and development are key factors for Austria's international competitiveness. They secure high-quality jobs. The Life Science Research Awards Austria promote young scientists - an initiative we are happy to support."

Innovative approach to developing of new antibiotics

In the category Applied Research, the Life Science Research Award Austria 2023 went to David Hoi for his work at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna. The results of his study represent a highly innovative approach to the development of new antibiotics: Protein degradation molecules such as BacPROTACs, which specifically target bacterial proteins, are being considered as a new class of antibiotics.

David Hoi and his colleagues have shown that BacPROTACs can be successfully used to target and kill tuberculosis pathogens. This suggests that the BacPROTAC platform may also be suitable for the development of new drugs to treat other serious infectious diseases. The study has been published in the leading journal Cell.

Clp-targeting BacPROTACs impair mycobacterial proteostasis and survival

Recycling of beverage packaging without the use of aggressive chemicals

The special award in the category Excellence and Societal Impact, which will be awarded for the fifth time in 2023, went to Klemens Kremser from the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Vienna. His work describes a novel, environmentally friendly process for recycling the various components of beverage packaging without the use of harsh chemicals: cellulose fibres are removed by enzymes and aluminium is microbially dissolved. The result is pure polyethylene that can be reused as packaging material.

The process developed by Klemens Kremser and his colleagues could significantly increase the reuse of packaging materials in the future. His work has been published in the prestigious journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling.

Bioleaching/enzyme-based recycling of aluminium and polyethylene from beverage cartons packaging waste

Dissertation prize: The body's own mechanisms against disease-causing proteins

In his dissertation, Alexander Hanzl also investigated the field of targeted protein degradation as a therapeutic option. In this process, pathogenic proteins are reduced by the body's own cell mechanisms. This is done using so-called small molecule degraders (E3 ligases). An important aspect of the work was to investigate how resistance to therapy develops. This approach is currently being clinically tested in cancer, neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases.

Improved targeted therapies also have significant environmental benefits, reducing the need for broad-spectrum drugs.

This work has significant application potential. The underlying idea has been patented and has already contributed to the creation of a successful biotech start-up.

Identifying novel degraders and resistance mechanisms in targeted protein degradation

Dissertation prize for novel use of gene scissors in cancer

The Life Science PhD Award Austria 2023 for the most innovative doctoral thesis with high application potential went to Matthias Hinterndorfer from the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna.

Important cellular building blocks that play a central role in the development of cancer and other diseases are difficult to study. They are often vital for cell survival. It is therefore very difficult for researchers to modify these building blocks. Hinterndorfer made the breakthrough with the remote-controlled use of the gene scissors CRISPR/Cas. This tool can be used to inactivate any human gene and thus prevent the production of the corresponding cell building block. As a result, short-lived building blocks would quickly disappear after the scissors damaged the responsible gene in the cell.

Using a chemical substance, Hinterndorfer succeeded in switching on the gene scissors at any time. In this way, a cellular reaction can be triggered before the important elements of the reaction are inactivated by the gene scissors.

This discovery opens up new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of cancer.

Title of the thesis: Time-resolved genetic screens to dissect gene functions and regulatory networks

15 years of ÖGMBT: Annual conference is the most important life science event in Austria

The ÖGMBT represents 1,300 people and students working in the life sciences as well as 70 companies and institutions. ÖGMBT President Univ.-Prof. Dr. Viktoria Weber at the 15th annual meeting, which this time took place in Salzburg: "The Life Science Awards Austria once again impressively demonstrate the high international standard of Austrian researchers. On behalf of the ÖGMBT, I would like to express my special thanks to our long-standing supporters BMAW, THP Medical Products and Polymun Scientific, who make these awards possible.”

Photo: ÖGMBT/dibiasi-momente

Caption: (from left to right) Matthias Hinterndorfer, Alexander Hanzl, Johanna Gassler, Klemens Kremser, David Hoi.

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