August 6, 1999

Research Magazine of Heidelberg University featuring Malaria: new ways of fighting an old scourge

Title story of Ruperto Carola 2/99: Katja Becker-Brandenburg and Heiner Schirmer on new approaches to finding effective antimalarials – Further topics: Civil society – astonishing career of a fashionable term; Seeing silicon: hope for the blind; Lorenzo's Oil: new treatment prospects for peroxisomal disorders – and lots more

Every year 300 million people come down with malaria. For over 2 million of them, contact with this perennial scourge ends fatally. Of all the varieties of "intermittent fever" malaria is the most notorious and it is spreading all the time. Although there is medication with which doctors can fight the disease, new strategies for combating it are urgently necessary. With parasite resistance typically developing within a decade, malaria drugs have been forfeiting their efficacy at an alarming rate. In the title story in "Ruperto Carola 2/99", the latest issue of Heidelberg University's research magazine, Katja Becker-Brandenburg and Heiner Schirmer describe new approaches to finding effective antimalarials affordable for the regions and people worst hit by the disease. The other topics in the magazine range from political science, microsensors and cell biology to environmental economics and mathematical modelling.

In the Editorial, Rector Prof. Dr. Juergen Siebke takes a critical look at state and national policies on higher education and research. Politicians are frequently heard to say that if the universities are in the doldrums then it's largely their own fault. But those same politicians are quick to extol the virtues of "their" universities when they can point to national and international research triumphs. This, says Siebke, is particularly true in the case of the 9 universities in Baden-Wuerttemberg. "All the more surprising that under the reform heading the present state government is planning a thoroughgoing overhaul of its university law." Reform for the sake of change? Heidelberg's Rector reminds the politicians of errors of omission and commission perpetrated over the last 15 years.

Civil society: astonishing career of a fashionable term

The first article in the new issue comes from Klaus von Beyme. At present it is hard to find a formal application for the funding of projects related to eastern Europe that does not carry the potentially award-winning term "civil society" in its title. The phrase has become almost ubiquitous. Klaus von Beyme of the Institute of Political Science traces its astonishing career, its significance as a normative social concept geared to the principle of equity and inclusiveness, and the progress that has been made in actually realizing the claims behind it. Of especial importance is the idea of "citizenship" and the roles of citizens in complex communities: legally, in cultural and national terms, politically and as part of the welfare state.

Seeing silicon: hope for the blind

First proposals for simulating the visual properties of the eye with selenium photocells were made as early as 1948. Scientists had already started speculating whether the areas of the brain responsible for vision might not also be stimulated by other sense-organs, say the sense of touch. In the meantime researchers have succeeded in creating an "electronic eye" comprising image acquisition, image processing and tactile display components. The "smart sensor" substitute system for the human eye has now been put to the test. Karlheinz Meier of the Institute of High Energy Physics describes the state of play in a hopeful development that might do much to improve the quality of life for blind persons.

Small cause, tragic effect

Lorenzo's Oil is a feature film that tells the true story of a small boy with a mysterious illness developing from periodic dizzy spells to severe permanent brain damage. The medical name for Lorenzo's ailment is adrenoleukodystrophie (ALD), a rare, genetically determined disease which medical research has identified as stemming from the dysfunction of tiny microbodies in the interior of the cell called peroxisomes. In their article Dariush Fahimi and Eveline Baumgart of the Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology explain what peroxisomes are, why they are so important for human health and what methods today's scientists use to improve our understanding of peroxisomal disorders and devise new ways of treating them.

Trade pardons and save the environment?

Today, environmental economics is an important subdiscipline within the domain of economic studies. One of its central concerns is to find out what instruments might be most suitable for achieving two apparently irreconcilable objectives: protecting the environment and encouraging economic growth. Till Requate of the Interdisciplinary Institute of Environmental Economics describes the advantages and disadvantages of a range of different environment policy instruments and enlarges on a system of regulation built around tradable certificates, a system which in theory could be equally beneficial to the environment and the economy.

Modelling complex worlds

Computers and new computing techniques play a major role in the progress being made in the biological and ecological sciences and the technological application of their findings. They not only allow the capture and processing of huge volumes of data, they can also compute mathematical models describing ongoing physical, chemical and biological processes. At the Centre for Interdisciplinary Scientific Computing (IWR) of Heidelberg University research groups are working on the modelling and analysis of complex equations and the development of computing techniques for the simulation of biological systems and environmentally relevant processes. In Ruperto Carola 2/99 Willi Jaeger and Gabriel Wittum report on the latest progress of research efforts in this area.

The permanent columns "News from the Stiftung Universitaet Heidelberg Foundation", "External Funding" and "Young Scientists Report" round off the magazine.

Ruperto Carola is printed by Universitaetsverlag C. Winter Heidelberg GmbH. Single copies cost 5 EUR plus postage (2,50 EUR for students). Like the special support subscription (4 issues for 30 EUR), they can be ordered from: Pressestelle der Universitaet Heidelberg, Postfach 105760, D-69047 Heidelberg. Gratis copies of earlier issues are available for inspection in the foyer of the Old University.

Please address inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
University of Heidelberg
Public Information Officer
Tel: +49 6221 542310, fax: 542317
e-mail: michael.schwarz@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de

You will find the full German texts of all issues of "Ruperto Carola" complete with abstracts in English in the Internet under www.uni-heidelberg.de/uni/presse


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