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Regine Peschka-Süss hopes to introduce gene therapeutic products into cells

Some scientists have their career path totally mapped out from the beginning, not so Prof. Dr. Regine Peschka-Süss from the University of Freiburg. Peschka-Süss takes the time to re-assess whether she is on the right track and, if necessary, makes changes. Peschka-Süss and her research group are currently working on the optimisation of carriers for gene therapeutic compounds for clinical and industrial application. This seems to be the right field of research for her, otherwise she would not be working in this area. What would she do if she were suddenly offered a chair at a different university?

Prof. Dr. Regine Peschka-Süss (Photo: private)
Born in Fulda in 1965, Prof. Dr. Regine Peschka-Süss, who works at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Freiburg, originally planned to become a teacher. However, after her final secondary-school examinations in 1984, she went travelling, taking on temporary jobs whilst thinking about her future. Eventually, she decided to study pharmacy in Mainz because this discipline, more than any other, combined disciplines such as chemistry, biology, technology and medicine. “It is quite strange that I am now teaching again,” said the scientist, easy-going by nature and full of laughter. She appears very content with her life. Everything has progressed well for her. “I try to take an occasional creative break to evaluate what I am doing at a particular moment and what the future might hold for me,” said Peschka-Süss adding that she is not the type of person to know right from the start what her objective is. “I like to weigh the pros and cons before I finally make a decision.”

Fruitful apprenticeship years

She spent one term of her studies in Buffalo, New York, and then went on a camping trip around the States with some friends, during which she thought about what she was going to do with her life. This was a happy time for her. In 1991, she graduated from Mainz and did a year’s work experience in a pharmacy before joining Merz & Co. in Frankfurt, where she first became interested in scientific work. “It was the first time that I did my own research, and it was like everyone imagines research to be – a lot of trial and error.” At that time, Merz & Co. were already producing important drugs for the treatment of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Peschka-Süss was investigating how lipid vesicles (liposomes) could be effectively used to treat skin diseases. Lipid vesicles are colloidal droplets in which bimolecular layers of fat and fat-soluble substances surround one or more aqueous droplets. Fat-soluble drugs are deposited in the outer layers and water-soluble drugs in the cells’ interior. The compounds are protected by the vesicles. After injection, they are transported to their targets in the blood, thereby causing fewer side effects. “At the time, it was an innovative field of science and there were not many scientists in Germany with a working knowledge of the field,” said Peschka-Süss.

Prof. Dr. Rolf Schubert, who was then a lecturer at the University of Tübingen and is now head of the Department of Pharmaceutical Technology and Biopharmacy in Freiburg where Peschka-Süss works, became her supervisor in 1992 when the company Merz & Co. offered her a doctoral grant. She did her doctorate in two and a half years, learning along the way how to adapt research to industry’s requirements. “There is no point developing a method or technology that can only produce one millilitre or that only works on a laboratory scale,” said Peschka-Süss. In addition, if a company is seeking to develop a marketable product it is important to comply with the guidelines and quality standards of ‘good drug production and control’.” These insights were very helpful for Peschka-Süss who, in 1994, followed Prof. Schubert to Freiburg in order to set up her own research group and habilitate. “I invested a great deal of time into finding a topic that I really enjoy,” said the 43-year-old. “I went through the literature with a fine toothcomb, looking for topics that might be new and promising, as well as for areas that industry might be interested in, as this is important when seeking financial support.”

Lipid vesicles in cancer research

Vesicles with a lipid membrane are referred to as liposomes and can be used to transport drugs, genes or inhibitors of defective genes. (Figure: Prof. Dr. Regine Peschka-Süss)
In the end, gene therapy was the topic she chose, and the know-how from her doctorate once again stood her in good stead. Gene therapy is the insertion of intact genes into cells in which certain genes are defective or the insertion of complementary sequences to block erroneously active genes. The researchers are hoping to treat diseases such as cancer in which genetic processes are disturbed. The insertion of such DNA can be achieved with carriers that Dr. Peschka-Süss had previously examined: vesicles consisting of lipids and/or polymers. She has been working with polymer scientists, medical doctors and industry since 1994 to optimise the vesicles in such a way as to enable their effective transport by way of the blood stream and render them able to withstand degradation by tumour cells. In addition, she is also looking for methods that enable her to use the technology on an industrial scale.
Dr. Peschka-Süss finished her habilitation in 2001 and her boss recommended her for a permanent position at the University of Freiburg, where she was also eventually offered a professorship. Asked whether she would leave Freiburg if she were offered a chair at another university she said: “I am open to change, but I always ask myself whether doing something new equates to personal career progress,” said Peschka-Süss. “I have been able to form an excellent research group in Freiburg, I have many interdisciplinary cooperations and I have acquired funding for numerous projects. In addition, I have competent colleagues who are pleasant to work with. I will not give this up for any chair that comes along.” It is always a good idea to take a break to assess the future. Regine Peschka-Süss still enjoys travelling in her free time, likes to be in the fresh air and play sports. This gives her a level head and helps her think about the truly important things.

mn – 1 September 2008
© BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg GmbH

Further information:
Prof. Dr. Regine Peschka-Süss
Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences
Department of Pharmaceutical Technology and Biopharmacy
Sonnenstr. 5
79104 Freiburg
Tel.: +49 (0)761/203-6327
Fax: +49 (0)761/203-6326
E-mail: regine.peschka-suess@pharmazie.uni-freiburg.de

 

 

 

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