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Martin Kerschensteiner honored for multiple sclerosis research

December 18, 2023

Sobek Foundation awards Europe's most highly endowed prize in MS research to Professor Martin Kerschensteiner and Professor Thomas Korn.

On December 15th, the Sobek Research Awards 2023 honored outstanding and pioneering achievements by scientists in the field of multiple sclerosis (MS) research and the associated basic research at a ceremony at the State University of Music and the Performing Arts Stuttgart. This year, Europe's most highly endowed prize in MS research, worth 100,000 euros, was awarded in equal parts to Professor Martin Kerschensteiner, Head of the Institute of Clinical Neuroimmunology at the BMC, and Professor Thomas Korn, Head of the Institute for Experimental Neuroimmunology at the Technical University (TU) of Munich and Deputy Director of the Neurological Clinic at Klinikum rechts der Isar.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system, which is supposed to protect against foreign and dangerous invaders, turns against the own body and attacks the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. Misprogrammed T-cells play a key role here. Both Sobek 2023 main prize winners have dedicated themselves primarily to researching T cell regulation and acute and chronic tissue damage in connection with MS.

Martin Kerschensteiner studied medicine in Aachen and Munich and obtained his doctorate in 1999 on the subject of "Protective mechanisms of human T cell immunity" at the Max Planck Institute in Martinsried. After several years of research work, including at Harvard Medical School in Boston, he has headed the Institute of Clinical Neuroimmunology at the LMU Clinic in Munich since 2013. He received the first Sobek Young Scientist Award in 2001. Among other things, Professor Kerschensteiner identified 18 regulators for MS, which are (co-)responsible for the development of inflammatory foci already at the onset of MS. He also succeeded in selectively marking neuronal pathway systems and making axonal damage visible for the first time using in vivo microscopy. His discovery of a temporary, potentially reversible stage of inflammatory axonal damage is also of great importance. This is an important starting point for future neuroprotective and neuroregenerative therapy strategies.

Thomas Korn studied medicine in Würzburg and London and completed his specialist training in Würzburg, followed by many years of scientific work at Harvard Medical School. He has been Deputy Director of the Department of Neurology at Klinikum rechts der Isar since 2017 and Head of the Institute for Experimental Neuroimmunology at the Technical University (TU) of Munich since 2019. Among other things, he is working on the question of where auto-aggressive T cells actually come from. The location of their activation determines where they settle in the central nervous system and what regulatory and damaging effects they have. Another focus of his work is on T helper cell regulation, the determinants in the development of T helper cell responses and the damage mechanisms controlled by Th17 cells. His study results have high translational relevance for MS as an autoimmune disease.

For a better future with MS

Both award winners publish their research findings in high-ranking scientific journals and are among the most cited scientists in their discipline. In his laudatory speech, Dr. Hans J. Reiter, Ministerial Director and Deputy Minister at the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and Arts, described the research achievements of the two award winners as pioneering: "With their research work to date, the two research award winners have created the basis for a better understanding of multiple sclerosis and for the development of even more targeted therapies against this still incurable disease. In this way, they give many MS patients a valuable perspective." The awarding of the Sobek Research Prize underlines the importance of the outstanding scientific work of Professor Martin Kerschensteiner and Professor Thomas Korn. "The prize should also be an incentive for their future important research work."

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