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EMBL

EMBO

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Previous Meetings:

Evolution
November 9th to 10th, 2001

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Heidelberg

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Sessions

  1. Evolution and Disease
  2. Diseases of the Brain
  3. Host & pathogen, a molecular perspective
  4. What we eat : Food and Disease
  5. New Therapeutic Approaches - Fighting Diseases

1. Evolution and Disease

Modern biomedicine aims to elucidate the detailed biological mechanisms of diseases as the key to tackle them. As for the understanding of any biological phenomena, it is thus essential to study the evolutionary processes that have shaped and still shape disease. The knowledge about the evolution of diseases helps us to explain their dynamics and to anticipate future risks. Siv Andersson will open the symposium with her talk on the evolution of microbial genomes. The session will further explore host-pathogen co-evolution in Malaria (Andrew Read), somatic cancer evolution (Franziska Michor) and the evolution of antimicrobial peptides (Bob Hancock).

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2. Diseases of the Brain

"Is there such a thing as mental illness?" asked Thomas S. Szasz in 1960. The term "mental illness" is widely used to describe something which is very different than a disease of the brain. A mental illness is defined by the medical profession as a disorder that results in a disruption in a person's thinking, feeling, moods, and ability to relate to others and to work. But should we rather name those illnesses 'diseases of the brain' as most psychologists attribute mental illness to organic/neurochemical causes? Neuroscience and genetics are still unable to fully explain the effects of genetic inheritance and developmental environment. But it becomes more and more evident that genetic disorders are responsible for diseases like Huntington. Also Parkinson or Alzheimer's disease depend on genetic factors. Nowadays, even Schizophrenia or Depression can be related to variations in genes. The aim of this session is to give an overview of some important diseases affection the function and neuronal structure of the brain to elucidate the influence of genes, molecules or environmental factors on these diseases.

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3. Host & pathogen, a molecular perspective

Many of the pathogens that exist today have been co-existing with their host throughout the times. This co-existence is probably related to the way that host and pathogen interact not only in an environmental way but also in a molecular as well as genetic level . This session will focus on the interactions between pathogen and host that lead to the infection. It will cover the several fields of interaction between host and pathogen, since the entry of the last to the changes in the molecular pathways and life cycle of the host caused by the pathogen.

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4. What we eat : Food and Disease

Food can transmit disease by carrying a pathogen, which infects its host via the digestive tract. Gad Frankel will in this session enrich our knowledge about pathogenic strains of our well known (?) lab ‘animal’ Escherichia coli. But disease may also be caused by substances in the food. That these substances may even be proteins has been shown in the recent years by our increasing knowledge about prion diseases and we will listen to a talk by Mick Tuite on the nature of prions. Humans can also become sick from choosing the wrong food, which can be the cause of obesity and some types of diabetes. We will hear Rudolf Zechner talking about genes involved in fat metabolism, obesity and the development of diabetes. Although there are by far more facets to the phenomenon of food causing disease, we think that this session will give as a broad insight into recent advances in the research on diseases that may be caused by food consumption.

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5. New Therapeutic Approaches - Fighting Diseases

Biologists study diseases not only out of curiosity. As members of society, which in most cases provides the resources for our research, we would like to make use of the scientific knowledge to try to improve our life by preventing diseases, developing diagnostic procedures or devising better ways to treat them. Many examples of biological research contributing to different aspects of medicine are around, ranging from improving good old antibiotics, based on the understanding of their molecular mechanism of action, till completely new strategies, such as gene and stem cell therapy. We could not leave out such an important application of basic research and this session will cover the means of fighting the diseases with focus on novel approaches.

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