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Harald Langer combines cardiology with immunology

The Volkswagen Foundation has taken the decision to finance a “Lichtenberg Professorship” at the University of Tübingen for a period of up to eight years. The new chair, cardiologist Dr. Harald Langer, uses molecular and cell biology methods to investigate how the immune system affects the development of arteriosclerosis in order to come up with innovative therapeutic strategies.

The new Lichtenberg Professorship is awarded to the Tübingen cardiologist Dr. Harald Langer © private

Attractive funding programmes are encouraging a growing number of outstanding German scientists to return to Germany from the USA. One such programme is the Volkswagen Foundation "Lichtenberg Professorship". In August 2010, the foundation announced that one of four Lichtenberg Professorships to be established in the life sciences at German universities would be awarded to the cardiologist Dr. Harald Langer from Tübingen. Since 2003, the Volkswagen Foundation has sponsored up to ten new professorships per year at German universities. The professorships are funded for a period of up to eight years. The universities where the new professorships are established are required to guarantee follow-up financing of the professorship, subject to a positive evaluation of the post holder, when Volkswagen Foundation financing ends. Dr. Harald Langer received the go-ahead from the University of Tübingen to apply for the professorship when he was still in the USA. Langer took up a research post at the renowned National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda in 2007.

Arteriosclerosis mouse model is used to investigate the disease in humans. The vessels shown in the photo reveal distinct arteriosclerotic alterations. © Dr. Harald Langer

Langer studied medicine in Magdeburg and Munich and did his practical training in the ‘Klinikum Rechts der Isar' in Munich where he became extremely interested in Prof. Dr. Meinrad Gawaz's research. "I have always been fascinated by experimental cardiology," said Langer who began his six-year cardiology training in Munich. He subsequently followed Gawaz to Tübingen and continued his training and research on molecular aspects of the field of vascular biology, i.e. the (patho) physiology of thrombocytes and progenitor cells.

In 2004, Langer was awarded the Gotthard Schettler Prize by the German Society for Arteriosclerosis Research, and in 2005, he was awarded the August Wilhelm and Liselotte Becht Research Prize by the German Heart Research Foundation. Langer's outstanding achievements led to a two-year grant from the German Academy of Sciences (former Leopoldina Foundation) that enabled him to do a two-year postdoctoral research period at the NIH which then provided follow-up financing up until Langer returned to Germany a few months ago.

”Pole Position“ for researchers returning to Germany from the USA

In Tübingen, Langer works as an assistant physician in the Cardiac Catheter Laboratory at the University Hospital of Tübingen. He expects to take up the Lichtenberg Professorship in early 2011 and he hopes that his research activities will bring the fields of cardiology and immunology even closer together. Langer’s main research focuses on the investigation of the influence of dendritic cells on the development of arteriosclerosis.

The dendritic cells, whose name is derived from the Lat. dendriticus (branched), of the immune system have numerous branched cytoplasmic projections. Langer is investigating the role these cells play in the development of arteriosclerosis. © Dr. Harald Langer

"The dendritic cells of the immune systems have only been known for a few years. They are found in relatively large quantities in the walls of blood vessels and in cardiac valves. The cells initiate, and can also modulate, the body's response to foreign antigens. It is known that arteriosclerosis is associated with inflammation and that the dendritic cells present antigens involved in arteriosclerosis to other immune system cells," explains Langer highlighting that the inflammatory mechanisms and the role of dendritic cells in these processes are not yet known in detail. "Last year, two papers on the role of dendritic cells in arteriosclerosis were published, but they gave totally contradictory results," said Langer.

Langer hopes to shed more light on these processes by investigating them in more detail using mouse models. "We are planning to specifically deplete dendritic cells, in other words, to repress their function in order to identify specific effects," said Langer. These investigations require the researcher to have in-depth immunological knowledge, which Langer hopes to acquire by working with immunologists from Tübingen. "I've been in contact with Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Rammensee for quite a while, and hope to intensify my cooperation with his group," said Langer referring to the interdisciplinary approach of his professorship, which was one of the major criteria for his appointment. Tübingen University and the University Hospital of Tübingen are also very pleased with Langer's concept of combining biological and medical issues. "The faculties and the dean's office gave me excellent support when I applied for the Lichtenberg Professorship," confirms Langer.

Young, interdisciplinary – or in a word: sustainable

Langer considers it a privilege to be appointed professor at the age of 33. “I am still quite young and I very much appreciate this opportunity to develop myself further, both in the clinic and in research. And what’s even more interesting is that I am working on a very innovative project that is currently attracting a great deal of attention,” added Langer who will also teach students. He plans to offer seminars in vascular biology for biology and medical students. In addition, he will give one 2-h lecture per week. Langer believes that the number of teaching hours will fit in nicely with his future tasks as Lichtenberg Professor.

The Volkswagen Foundation grant will cover Langer’s salary, and the salaries of one postdoctoral and one doctoral student as well as one technician. In addition, Langer will be given a certain sum of money every year to purchase equipment. The University of Tübingen has set aside rooms for the new research team and it will cover the costs for the rooms as well as other logistics costs. The University of Tübingen and the Volkswagen Foundation will evaluate Langer’s work after four or five years.

Lichtenberg Professorships
Since 2003, the Volkswagen Foundation (VolkswagenStiftung) has supported up to ten "Lichtenberg Professorships" per year at German universities. The professorships are aimed at outstanding young German and non-German academics who have obtained their PhD in the last four to seven years, have a proven research record and have worked on an innovative and interdisciplinary topic. Applications must be submitted to the Volkswagen Foundation by 1st November in any given year. The professorship is named after the scholar Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742 - 1799) from Göttingen who was the first German professor of experimental physics.

Further information:
University Hospital Tübingen
Department of Internal Medicine III
Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
Dr. Harald Langer
Otfried-Müller-Str. 10
72076 Tübingen
Tel.: +49 (0)7071 29-82712
E-mail: harald.langer(at)med.uni-tuebingen.de

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/harald-langer-combines-cardiology-with-immunology