Insight Lectures

Biology

Martina Muckenthaler
"Researchers are idealistic, rather enthusiastic people who like getting their teeth into their research."

Martina Muckenthaler

Haemochromatosis – The most common hereditary disease in the Western world

Martina Muckenthaler is a professor at the Centre for Paediatrics at Heidelberg University Hospital. In 2004, she established a research group at the Medical Faculty to investigate the physiological regulation of genes involved in iron metabolism and its disturbances in human disease. Together with her team, she carries out fundamental research on one of the most common hereditary metabolic diseases in northern Europe, the iron storage disease, or haemochromatosis.

Professor Muckenthaler is trying to understand the regulatory mechanisms of iron metabolism. To do so, she has developed the so-called 'iron chip' in collaboration with scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) which could successfully be used to define molecular mechanisms of the hereditary haemochromatosis.

In 2007, Professor Muckenthaler was awarded the Margit Krikker Award for her outstanding contributions to research into haemochromatosis. "A scientist's working day hardly ever resembles a nine-to-five job," she says. "In the corridors of EMBL, you'll find people staying as late as two o'clock in the morning, with the first ones arriving the next morning as early as five o'clock. While this can be exhausting, it also gives you enormous flexibility, because you can organise your experiments as you please."

Nadia Rosenthal

Nadia Rosenthal
"The most exciting work in biology is coming in the next few decades."

Stem Cells and Regeneration

Nadia Rosenthal is Head of the Monterotondo outstation of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), 20km north of Rome. In addition to managing EMBL's Mouse Biology Unit, she leads her own research laboratory which focuses on regenerative biology, a rapidly growing branch of science that explores the mechanisms employed by different organisms to replace lost or damaged tissues and organs.

Professor Rosenthal and her team use the mouse as a model system to identify and disturb the molecular pathways involved in repairing tissue damage resulting from injury, disease and ageing. By identifying and manipulating the key signalling pathways that cause circulating progenitor cells to move to sites of tissue damage and aid local repair mechanisms, she and her team are trying to understand how to improve the regenerative capacity of mammalian tissue, for instance heart muscle after a heart attack.

In future research Professor Rosenthal wants to define the common nodal points of signalling in mammalian regenerative mechanisms and harness this knowledge to devise clinically relevant interventions in ageing, injury and degenerative disease in skeletal and cardiac muscle. "We are a lot closer to understanding how the remarkable events occur that take an egg to become a mouse or a bat or a dog, but it's still quite a big mystery," she says. "Young people that pursue a career in biology now will really make the breakthroughs in this field."

Maria Mota

Maria Mota
"Biology is not definitive. There are always questions. We need to prove in many different ways that our observations are correct."


Chasing the Malaria Parasite

Maria Mota is a group leader at Lisbon's Instituto de Medicina Molecular, University of Lisbon, Portugal. She received her PhD in 1998 from University College London, and in 2003 she was named an EMBO Young Investigator and received a 2004 European Research Young Investigator Award from the European Science Foundation.

Dr Mota works on one of the most devastating diseases in the world, malaria. She is looking at how the malaria parasite Plasmodium becomes established inside the liver cells of its host and the host factors involved in the developing disease. She uses systematic RNA interference screening and rodent models of malaria in her research to understand the hostparasite interactions. Determining the factors that either promote infections or help ward them off would not only shed light on the basic mechanisms of malaria infection but also provide potential new targets for therapy.

"Technology has advanced so much in the last 20 to 30 years to allow us to take a much more general approach," she says. "If we understand what the parasite needs, of course, then there is space to develop rational strategies to combat it."