New Therapy Options for Atherosclerosis


The awarding of the first joint PhD degree to Anette Christ from RWTH Aachen and Maastricht University marked a milestone in the research and education program of the IRTG1508/EUCAR international graduate school, headed by RWTH Professor Jürgen Bernhagen and Professor Tilman Hackeng, Maastricht Universtiy. The inter-university and transnational awarding of a joint doctoral degree is an important instrument for joining together science and education institutions. Biomedicine, especially, with its complex technologies, lives off of the collaborating labs. In Germany, such joint PhD degrees are known as "Cotutelle-Verfahren", but until now they have only be awarded in individual cases.

  From left to right: Professors Jürgen Bernhagen and Martin Zenke, Lieve Temmerman, Mat Daemen, and Erik Biessen after the awarding of the joint PhD from RWTH Aachen and Maastricht University to Anette Christ (center)

Anette Christ is the first researcher to receive a joint PhD from both RWTH Aachen and Maastricht University, with outstanding performance. Christ conducted research on "Dendritic cells in hyperlipidemia-asso­ciated atherosclerosis“ under the guidance of RWTH Professor Martin Zenke, and Professors Mat Daemen and Erik Biessen from Maastricht University, looking for new mechanisms for treating atherosclerosis and discovering a schielding effect that was unknown until now. This effect is triggered by so called plasmacytoid dendritic cells. Her findings opened up important foundations for the development of new therapy options.

International Research in the Graduate School

Cardiac and vessel diseases are among the most common causes of death in Western societies. Because of this, top international research must be bundled. The graduate school IRTG1508/EuCAR is a perfect example: Since 2008, the medical faculties of RWTH Aachen and Maastricht University have intensified their successful, longterm collaboration.

The graduate school primarily focuses on macrovascular pathbiological and pathophysiological processes, that play a role in arterial rebuilding processes, such as atherosclerosis and unstable deposits or plaque. Unstable plaque present a high health risk due to thrombosis and the danger of heart attacks. Focus is also placed on the involved chemokine and cytokine controlled molecular processes of disease development. These molecules in the immune system that direct communication can create immunological and inflammatory defensive reactions. In the graduate school, research is being conducted on ways to prevent these processes. The DFB and NWO are funding the resarch with about three million euros.

Celina Begolli