Laureates Professor Ralf Bartenschlager and Professor Ingrid Fleming
Professor Ralf Bartenschlager
Prof Dr rer. nat. Dr med. h. c. Ralf Bartenschlager, Head of the Department of Molecular Virology at Heidelberg University Hospital and of the Department of Virus-Associated Carcinogenesis at the German Cancer Research Center, is researching the biology of so-called RNA viruses. Notably, his work laid the foundations for curing damage incurred by chronic infections with the hepatitis C virus, such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. RNA viruses include the hepatitis C virus (HCV), dengue virus, Zika virus, and SARS‑CoV‑2. All these viruses have threatened the health of the world's population in the past, as well as today – each in their own way.
Professor Dr Ralf Bartenschlager not only succeeded in researching the biology of these viruses, but also in making his findings useful in practice. For example, the drugs currently available for treating chronic hepatitis C, all of which were developed using Ralf Bartenschlager's cell systems, lead to a cure in around 95 percent of infections. If treated in time, it can also prevent liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. When it came to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, Ralf Bartenschlager launched a number of research and development projects, such as the fightCOVID@Heidelberg initiative. Next, he plans to identify those viral and cellular factors that are necessary for the formation of viral replication structures in infected cells in a broad comparative study. His focus lies on so-called plus-strand RNA viruses, which include HCV, dengue virus, Zika virus, and SARS-CoV-2. The findings will then be used to develop new antiviral therapy concepts. Viral and cellular factors that are suitable for the development of antiviral agents with a broad-spectrum effect are of particular interest here to enable better responses to pandemics.
Professor Ingrid Fleming
Diabetes and the resulting vascular diseases can lead to occlusion of leg vessels or even to heart attacks and blindness. Prof Dr Ingrid Fleming from the Center for Molecular Medicine at Goethe University, Frankfurt, is investigating how these diseases are related. She is now receiving the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine 2022 for her successful work and for transferring her results to potential medical applications. The award, which is endowed with a total of 300,000 euros, is presented each year by the Hamburg based Jung Foundation for Science and Research to top researchers whose projects contribute to medical progress and whose work promises pioneering findings in the future.
Diabetes mellitus is very often associated with blood vessel diseases. This affects both large arteries, such as leg arteries, and the smallest veins in the heart, brain, or eyes. This can ultimately lead to foot amputations due to leg vessel occlusion or other serious consequences such as heart attacks and blindness. But how are these secondary diseases triggered and what causes them to progress? Prof Dr Ingrid Fleming investigates the mechanisms responsible for disease development at the molecular level and provides approaches for transferring the findings to medical practice. For example, she succeeded in identifying a messenger substance, a specific lipid mediator. This is responsible for so-called diabetic retinopathy, an eye change that develops as a result of diabetes mellitus. Additionally, she investigated how it could be treated with drugs using innovative methods.