The Werner Siemens Imaging Center (WSIC) at the Radiological University Hospital Tübingen and the Medical Faculty of the University of Tübingen is pleased to announce that it has received a total of 18.4 million euros in funding from the Swiss Werner Siemens Foundation (WSS). The funding is intended to maintain and further expand the already existing international top-level research in the field of molecular and functional imaging. The funding covers a period of ten years, from 2024 to 2033.
Among international top-level institutions in the field of imaging science
Since 2008, the once small laboratory has developed into a state-of-the-art facility with international appeal. Thus, the WSIC is an internationally highly-competitive, unique research institute that offers tailored key imaging applications that use hybrid, multi-scale, multiplex, translational approaches to answer the most relevant biological questions in oncology, immunology, and neurology. Its international reputation is testified not least by numerous research collaborations with top-tier institutions such as Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Medical School. "The Werner Siemens Imaging Center forms a supporting pillar for imaging at the Tübingen site and is a guarantor for excellent research at our university. We are all the happier about the generous grant from the Werner Siemens Foundation," explains Prof. Dr. Bernd Engler, President of the University of Tübingen.
Strategic expansion of the research center
Under the premise of developing the most advanced technologies and using them for biomedical research, the combination of positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for example, has been advanced in the past. This hybrid imaging allows the simultaneous acquisition of information on function (e.g., cellular stress, metabolism) and structures of healthy or diseased tissue in a single examination. Coupled with the development of so-called immune imaging tracers, i.e. radioactive substances that allow the processes of the patient's own immune system to be depicted even more precisely with the aid of imaging techniques, these technologies are used in particular in tumor therapy planning and control. "The funding gives us long-term planning security so that we can conduct research at the Werner Siemens Imaging Center with the next generation of imaging methods and develop innovative data analysis systems and imaging tracers," explains Prof. Dr. Bernd Pichler, Director of the WSIC.
"Especially novel therapies, such as cancer immunotherapies, are extremely costly and require complex and individualized control, which can only be ensured with the latest generation of imaging techniques," Prof. Pichler continues.
Future research priorities of the center
A better understanding of molecular and functional changes in cancer and the visualization of these changes using imaging techniques gives medicine better options for cancer therapy. The goal at WSIC is to further improve tumor imaging by combining PET and MRI techniques. For example, within a single one-hour imaging examination, it should be possible to make statements about tumor-specific surface receptors, cellular stress and metabolism of solid tumors. Coupled with machine learning analysis techniques and innovative tracers, this will greatly facilitate the characterization of tumors and thus the control of complex cancer therapies, as more accurate and faster predictions can be made about the response of the therapy in the respective patient.
But even innovative immunotherapies, such as CAR T-cell therapy, sometimes reach their limits. Here, blood is taken from the cancer patient in order to modify the body's own immune system defense cells, the T cells, in the laboratory in such a way that after transfer they are returned to the patient's blood to recognize and fight the cancer cells. However, some of these modified immune cells lose their function in certain tumor regions. To uncover the mechanisms responsible for the local "loss of function" of immune cells, it is necessary to observe them at the single cell level directly in the tumor environment. The WSIC houses an intravital microscope and a 3D light sheet microscope, two state-of-the-art imaging devices that help to study those parameters that influence whether a tumor cell develops resistance or not. The goal is to develop immune cells for future therapies that can efficiently attack cancer cells despite the tumor's defense mechanisms. In addition, microscopic imaging helps to identify so-called biomarkers, i.e. biological characteristics that then help, for example, to detect therapy resistance at an early stage.
In addition to cancer research, WSIC also focuses on imaging technologies and novel tracers for the characterization and early detection of neurodegenerative diseases and infectious diseases.
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