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30 January 2001

Heidelberg Research Scientist Prof. Konrad Beyreuther to Advise State Government in BSE Crisis

Rector Prof. Dr. Jürgen Siebke: "University of Heidelberg sees the honourable appointment of Prof. Beyreuther as a handsome vindication of its policy of profile enhancement" — Siebke expressed the "justified hope" that the transfer of knowledge from the University to society at large will now be even more immediate than before

The renowned Heidelberg molecular biologist Professor Konrad Beyreuther is to act in an advisory capacity to the state government of Baden-Württemberg in facing up to the present BSE crisis. Minister-President Erwin Teufel (CDU) plans to make research scientist Beyreuther a "State Councillor for the Protection of Life and Health". Beyreuther is internationally famed for his work on Alzheimer's disease. He will be acting in an honorary capacity.

At the University, Rector Prof. Dr. Jürgen Siebke commented: "As a research scientist and institute director Prof. Beyreuther has had a crucial influence on the development of the University's Molecular Biology Centre (ZMBH), which has quickly become one of the world's leading research centres in a number of fields." He went on to say that the signal honour this appointment represents is a "handsome vindication of the University's policy of profile enhancement", expressing the "justified hope that the transfer of knowledge from the University to society at large will now be even more immediate than before."

The new State Councillor's tasks

Prof. Beyreuther's job will be to advise the Minister President and the state government on questions pertaining to the protection of life and health. This includes assessing modern developments in medicine and the life sciences, notably from an ethical point of view. Chief among the Minister President's concerns are human genetics, reproductive medicine and biotechnology. Nutrition safety and the whole field of "environment and health" are also encompassed by the portfolio.

The new State Councillor is also responsible for the information of and communication with the citizens of the state and for the expansion of Baden-Württemberg as an important research location for the life sciences.

At ZMBH since May 1987

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Dr. med. h.c. Konrad Beyreuther (born 1941) has been professor of molecular biology at the University of Heidelberg's ZMBH Molecular Biology Centre since May 1987. His central research interest for most of that time has been Alzheimer's disease, notably an insoluble protein found in abundance in the senile plaques in the brains of Alzheimer patients and designated as ßA4 or Aß amyloid. The term amyloid means "starch-like". Beyreuther came across this amyloid in the early 1980s when his work on prion disorders (among them BSE and scrapie) led to an encounter with the Australian neuropathologist Colin L. Masters with whom he has been closely associated ever since.

Since 1984 the two teams headed by Beyreuther and Masters have not only succeeded in determining the complete chemical structure of the amyloid ßA4 protein in the neuritic plaques characteristic of Alzheimer's disease but also to identify its origin as a fragment of a much larger protein, the amyloid precursor protein (APP).

Today, the knowledge about Alzheimer's disease amassed by Beyreuther's lab is very advanced indeed. Beyreuther and his co-workers have also succeeded in producing the amyloid synthetically. The have also synthesised amyloid variants able to thwart the formation of amyloid from natural ßA4 protein, thus proving for the first time that the inhibition of the aggregation process of the ßA4 protein and probably also of amyloid formation is in fact feasible. This has had important repercussions on therapy research and the development of pharmaceutic agents.

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 04.02.2001


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