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University of Regensburg

Healing with Intelligent Cells

The University of Regensburg Hosts Flagship Projects in Immunological Research
Author: twa,

Immunotherapies have the potential to revolutionise the treatment of cancer patients: the targeted manipulation of the immune system for the more effective treatment of previously incurable cancers is among the most significant current topics in the scientific world. Researchers at the Regensburg Center for Interventional Immunology (RCI) are among those developing immune and cell therapies to treat severe diseases such as tumors, chronic inflammation, or autoimmunity.

The combination of basic research and medical application for the benefit of patients is an essential and unique feature of the RCI.
Prof. Dr. Philipp Beckhove, Scientific Director, RCI

“Living Drugs”

RCI’s main objective is the research, development, and faster application of improved therapeutic approaches against cancer, autoimmune diseases, and chronic inflammation tissue regeneration, as well as in organ and stem-cell transplantation. With the help of synthetic immunology, RCI scientists intervene in these processes, equip immune cells with artificial sensors, functions, and control programs, and use them as “living drugs” with new skills for therapeutic purposes.

RCI was established in order to bring together all academic research areas related to the development of new immunotherapies.
At RCI, researchers seek to understand the mechanisms that immune cells can use to treat tumors, autoimmune diseases, or transplant rejection.

The RCI brings together three research areas related to developing and applying new therapies, with the goal of creating new diagnostic methods, technologies, and drugs.

Mechanism and Target Structures

RCI investigates the highly complex interactions of different immune cells with each other and with the cells of an organism in order to understand how the immune system ensures the health of organisms. This program area is at the interface between basic research and translational research. The scientists want to discover starting points and target structures of new immunotherapeutic approaches and their relevance for targeted immunotherapeutic manipulations.

  • Internationally acknowledged experts were appointed to Regensburg’s RCI, and new scientific work groups were set up.
  • Developing new immunotherapies is a long and expensive endeavour. The minimum time requirement is 10 years.
  • Research in the field of immunotherapies is subject to a multitude of technical requirements and needs specialized equipment.
  • RCI places particular emphasis on the development and implementation of clinical studies.
  • Extended infrastructure: The José-Carreras-Center (JCC) provides RCI researchers with the clean-room facilities needed for the production of innovative cell therapeutics.
  • High demands regarding quality and process control mean that research and development efforts require clean-room laboratories.
  • The development and manufacture of cell therapeutics is subject to strict legal requirements and must be carried out under GMP conditions. GMP stands for Good Manufacturing Practice.

Immune Cell Manipulation

RCI also focuses on the preclinical development of immune cell therapeutics. This includes the identification, differentiation, expansion, and preclinical testing of therapeutically relevant immune cell populations, but also their functional manipulation and optimization through genetic, epigenetic, or pharmacological interventions. This program area integrates and transfers findings on immunoregulatory mechanisms and target structures into therapeutically applicable cell therapies.

RCI researchers and their partners offer hope to cancer patients throughout the world by developing promising new immunotherapies and bringing them into clinical use.
Prof. Dr. Udo Hebel, President, University of Regensburg

Cell Production and Therapy

The clinical translation of scientific findings is an important goal of the RCI. Therefore, RCI researchers work closely with clinical partners to implement the results and therapy strategies their colleagues have developed. The focus is on the production of new cell therapeutics as a prerequisite for clinical testing and clinical application of the cell therapies. The José-Carreras-Center on the University’s campus provides the high-tech infrastructure for this purpose. It offers clean-room laboratories in order to be able to separate and reprogram immune cells for clinical use in patients.

Quick Transfer

Several DFG-funded clinical research groups are actively involved in research with the RCI, playing a leading role in ensuring that Regensburg ranks high in the global competition for new immunotherapies. Particularly promising for the work of the Regensburg immunologists is their close proximity to the patients, which means the research results can be quickly transferred to clinical treatment concepts. Theory and practice go hand in hand—close collaboration between the University and University Hospital Regensburg enables the highest research efficiency.

Regensburg Center for Interventional Immunology (RCI)

RCI was established in 2010 as a central unit of the University of Regensburg in order to:

  • link all academic research areas related to the development of new immunotherapies (e. g. Departments of Internal Medicine, Surgery);
  • bring together leading experts in the field of cellular immunotherapy;
  • research, develop, and quickly apply improved therapies against cancer and autoimmune diseases, as well as in the field of organic and stem-cell therapy;
  • collaborate closely with university hospitals to offer high research efficiency and modern therapy.

The RCI is planning to become an extra-faculty research institute of the Leibniz Association.

Program Areas

  • Mechanisms and target structures
  • Gene-Immunotherapy / Immune cell manipulation
  • Cell production and therapy / Clinical cooperation

Scientific Director: Prof. Dr. Philipp Beckhove

Nurturing New Talent

RCI’s experts are internationally renowned: Philipp Beckhove, Markus Feuerer, Matthias Edinger, Hinrich Abken, Luca Gattinoni, Simone Thomas, Birte Kehr—just to mention a few. With their colleagues, they carry out basic research at the top international level. In addition to that, they support the promotion of young talent through structured graduate programs and the RCI junior program. Diversity and international collaboration are a matter of course and prepare junior researchers at RCI for global career opportunities. Anyone interested in doing research at RCI should frequently check RCI’s available opportunities or get directly in touch with its researchers.

Currently, the RCI graduate program consists of more than 20 international PhD/MD students. It includes compulsory modules (e. g., good scientific practice, biostatistics), mentoring and regular progress reports, seminars, regular research retreats, and a continuous evaluation of training programs. Furthermore, RCI’s graduate program is closely intertwined with the structured graduate programs of the University of Regensburg: for example, the Regensburg International Graduate School of Life Sciences (RIGeL);  the Biomedical International Graduate School (BioMediGS), or the Medical Regensburg Graduate School (MedReGS).

The University of Regensburg’s faculties, labs, libraries, and central service units form a compact and green campus. The university is characterized by cutting-edge research, high-quality teaching, and a broad spectrum of study programs.
The old town of Regensburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Campus University UR is located on the southern edge of the city.

RCI Junior Program: An Opportunity for Postdocs to Boost Their Career

RCI researchers introduce young doctors to the newest scientific findings in the field of immunotherapy. The center also provides these doctors with the possibility of establishing a junior research group. Currently, the RCI has one junior group—“Immunoncological Epigenetics.” It is led by Dr. Christian Schmidl. The group’s research is as relevant as it is exciting: They focus particularly on epigenetic programming of central immune regulatory signaling pathways in tumors. The objective: to understand epigenetic mechanisms that affect T-cell functions in the tumor. The focus is on the analysis of the chromatin structure as it provides important information about the activity of immunologically relevant genes. The early career scientists want to use genome manipulation to eliminate newly discovered key factors in order to improve the immune response against tumors. To this end, they are establishing a strategy for how they can use the CRISPR gene scissors to advantageously change the genome of immune cells. Further junior groups are in the process of being established.

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