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23 July 2003

Heidelberg Research Magazine "Ruperto Carola 2/2003": Support for Weak Hearts

Title story on new approaches to cardiac insufficiency therapy — Molecular Pathfinders: How Proteins Form Heads — Rituals for Getting High — An On-Board Computer for Surgeons — Gravity, Quantum States and Hopping Neutrons — Bronze Age Industrial Regions: The Alps

Title

Cardiac insufficiency is a severe, frequently fatal disorder of the heart muscle. Among its causes are permanent high blood pressure, oxygen or nutrient deficiency and functional impairments following a heart attack. In Ruperto Carola 2/2003, Andrew Remppis and Hugo Katus of the Hospitals of the University of Heidelberg give a readily comprehensible account of what is presently known about the origins of cardiac insufficiency and the ways in which patients can be given help with the new approaches to treatment deriving from this knowledge. Innovative cell-replacement therapies even hold out hope of curing the disorder completely, thus restoring the heart to its former capacity. The Heidelberg research magazine once again offers a wide range of subjects, from evolutionary biology, medical psychology, surgery and physics to early history.

Editorial: Why has the University of Heidelberg joined the League of European Research Universities?

"In 1937, a commission called into being by President Roosevelt identified the most important technological innovations in the 30 years to come. No mention was made of things like computers, Xerox machines, radar, sonar systems, antibiotics, lasers or nuclear energy." These are the opening words of vice-rector Prof. Dr. Angelos Chaniotis' editorial for the new magazine. He then goes on to address the serendipity factor, recalling that important discoveries are frequently the side-effects of research work pursuing entirely different aims. "Basic research has an enormous potential for innovation, and one of the main reasons for that is that it can produce surprising, unforeseen and unintended results."

The state of Baden-Württemberg, he continues, supports basic research with the most generously endowed German state research award. In so doing it has displayed greater foresight than the authors of the European Amsterdam treaty. The latter describes support for applied research alone as a central task for the European Union. "This attitude has major negative repercussions for European universities," Chaniotis contends. "Twelve European universities have responded to the challenge. Last July they established the League of European Research Universities (LERU) in Leyden." One of its members is the University of Heidelberg.

Chaniotis outlines the tasks the LERU has set itself and takes a critical look at the comparison frequently made between European and American universities. "As so often in the past, crucial differences between the United States and the European Union have been given little or no consideration." The European Union has more research ministries than member states. In the United States "there are none". American universities are entirely free in the way they advertise appointments, and this gives them a high degree of strategic flexibility. "Only ten percent of American universities are state-run. In many European countries private universities are conspicuous by their absence."

Given the anything but uniform parameters for research in the European states, "it is doubtful whether the best way of supporting European universities as research locations in the competition with American universities is to adopt parts of the American model without thinking very closely about what the specific strengths and weaknesses of the European system actually are." In his editorial, Chaniotis outlines the steps taken by the University of Heidelberg and the LERU in enhancing their position in this respect.

Molecular Pathfinders: How Proteins Form Heads

How does a complex organism originate from one single egg? This problem has preoccupied biologists since antiquity. In the 1920s, the much-noted experiments by the German zoologist Hans Spemann really put evolutionary biology on the map. Together with molecular biology, evolutionary biology is one of the most fast-moving scientific disciplines in the present-day world. Its aim is to understand the development of the organism up to the molecular level. In the new issue, Christoph Niehrs explains what is known about the function of one of these molecules with the highly suggestive name "dickkopf" (literally "headstrong"). Niehrs was recently awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize by the German Research Council.

Rituals for Getting High

Observation, sensitivity to the views of participants in the study, a refusal to put theory first — these are essential features of the approach taken by scientists and scholars examining the use and abuse of psychoactive substances in the framework of the new long-term collaborative research project on "Ritual Dynamics". Henrik Jungaberle and Rolf Verres describe the ambitious project, the central issue of which is: What significance do rituals have in the controlled use of psychoactive substances? What factors make some drug users lapse into total dependency and the degradation that goes with it, while others manage to remain occasional users for the purpose of heightening awareness? The many-faceted studies provide a basis for new preventive strategies.

An On-Board Computer for Surgeons

Just as modern navigation systems in cars can put drivers on the right road, so a tailor-made "on-board computer" for surgeons can help in the performance of difficult operations requiring a high degree of precision. Stefan Hassfeld and Rüdiger Marmulla of the Hospital for Oral and Maxillo-Facial Surgery at the University of Heidelberg give a graphic account of the way in which "on-board computers" and robots can help make operations extremely precise and thus improve safety. In the final analysis, however, it is the human surgeon — like the car-driver — who decides which route is the best one to take.

Gravity, Quantum States and Hopping Neutrons

Gravity is probably the most familiar physical force we are aware of. The next article in "Ruperto Carola 2/2003" describes the principles behind a drop-and-fall experiment of the kind first conducted by Galileo. Today, however, things are rather different. The object being "dropped" is a low-energy neutron, the distance is a few micrometres, and the description of the results is based on quantum mechanics. For the first time, scientists have contrived to observe quantum states in the gravitational field of the earth. The exciting experiment described here by Hartmut Abele of the Institute of Physics is both a test of superstring theories and a contribution to the quest for the unification of forces.

Bronze-Age Industry in the Alps

Where today skiers and summer holidaymakers go to enjoy the imposing natural surroundings, 7,000 years ago people were burrowing underground in deep tunnels, mining ore, walling up calcinations beds and smelting furnaces and fashioning a wide range of products sold by traders as far afield as southern Sweden and eastern Europe. Hubertus Presslinger and Clemens Eibner of the Institute of Protohistory and Early History describe what primeval mining in the eastern Alps actually looked like and how our ancestors processed the ore in Bronze Age copper-smelting plants that have long since been abandoned.

The magazine rounds off with its permanent sections, beginning with an overview of the best-endowed new externally funded projects. Then Joannis Mylonopoulos asks "Is This a God You Could Love?". His doctoral dissertation on "Sanctuaries and Cults of Poseidon in the Peloponnese" won him the Margarete Häcker Award for classical studies. In the "News and Views" section, Rainer Nobiling of the Department of Experimental Surgery indicates why experiments on animals are indispensable for medical research. In the section "News from the University of Heidelberg Foundation", Paul Kirchhof gives a brief survey of the recipients of the Ruprecht Karl Awards for 2002.

"Ruperto Carola" is published by Universitätsverlag C. Winter Heidelberg. Single copies cost € 5 plus postage. Like the special support subscription (€ 30 for four issues) it can be ordered from: Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg, Postfach 10 57 60, D-69047 Heidelberg. Gratis copies of earlier issues are available in the entrance area of the Old University (Grabengasse 1).

For more information and the complete articles of earlier issues (in German) go to http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/publikat.html

Please address any inquiries to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317
michael.schwarz@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de
http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/index.html


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