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Dietmar Herndler-Brandstetter receives FWF research grant

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(Vienna, 18 June 2020) Dietmar Herndler-Brandstetter, from MedUni Vienna's Institute of Cancer Research and member of the Comprehensive Cancer Center of MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital, and his research group have received a FWF grant (€399,000) to investigate how non-coding RNA molecules regulate the functions of the immune system.

Sequencing of the human genome in 2001 showed that a human has approximately 20,000 genes that are responsible for producing proteins. Genes are clearly defined sections of the DNA, which are transcribed into RNA for the production of proteins. Surprisingly, less complex organisms such as the one-millimetre-long threadworm "C. elegans" has the same number of genes as a human. This discrepancy between the number of genes and biological complexity can presumably be explained by the fact that the 20,000 protein-coding genes only represent 2% of the entire human genome. However, the human body produces a much greater number of RNA molecules that are not designated for protein manufacture. The so-called non-coding RNA molecules increase in the genome of complex organisms and play an important role in the regulation of gene expression. Non-coding RNA is often referred to as the "dark matter" of DNA, since its biological relevance is little researched and understood.

Says Dietmar Herndler-Brandstetter: "In pilot experiments, our research group found that non-coding RNA molecules play an important role in the immune system. Our research project is therefore concerned with identifying and understanding the biological relevance of non-coding RNA molecules in immune cells, which are responsible for successful resistance against viruses, bacteria and cancer cells. We expect our research study to provide us with a better understanding of how the cells of the immune system and their functions are regulated." The results could therefore, inter alia, provide new approaches for improving immunotherapies for cancer patients.

About Dietmar Herndler-Brandstetter
Dietmar Herndler-Brandstetter studied pharmacy at the University of Innsbruck and completed a PhD at the Medical University of Innsbruck. As a FLARE fellow, he worked at the Austrian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Biomedical Aging Research and at the University of Birmingham (England). As an Erwin Schrödinger fellow, he worked as a researcher in Richard Flavell's laboratory at Yale University (USA). In December 2017 he took up a post as group leader (translational tumour immunology) at MedUni Vienna’s Institute of Cancer Research and is a member of the Comprehensive Cancer Center of MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital. His particular areas of scientific interest are translational cancer research, the role of the immune system in advanced cancer and the further development of immunotherapies to provide more effective treatment for treatment-resistant tumours and metastases. Dietmar Herndler-Brandstetter has authored and co-authored 39 scientific publications and has won the Karl Landsteiner Prize.

Comprehensive Cancer Center Vienna
The Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC) Vienna belonging to MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital provides a network for all professionals from these two institutions who treat cancer patients, conduct cancer research and are active in teaching and education in this field. (www.ccc.ac.at)