Press releases – 2020

 

Mar 23 2020
13:23

​ The „International Conference on Learning Analytics & Knowledge 2020“ (LAK20) is dedicated to the measurement and analysis of data from technology-based learning processes – registration is still open.

Most significant international Learning Analytics conference will take place – fully online

FRANKFURT. On March 25, the “International Conference on Learning Analytics & Knowledge 2020" (LAK20) will be carried out from Frankfurt am Main as a complete online format. Responding rapidly to the spread of the coronavirus, the team of organisers has rescheduled and completely switched the event, joined by attendees across the world, to a virtual conference. Learning Analytics reflects the measurement and analysis of data from technology-based learning processes that are, for instance, gained in online courses or software tutorials. Learning is thus meant to be supported and optimised.

“Especially at an international level, Learning Analytics has been shown to have a relevant impact on education“, says Professor Dr. Hendrik Drachsler from DIPF | Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education and the Goethe University Frankfurt, who has held a leading role in organising the conference. DIPF and the University, together with Technical University (TU) Darmstadt, are hosting the LAK this year, which is operated by a German team for the first time. Drachsler explains that Learning Analytics is, for example, used to promote students in ongoing learning processes, or in setting up learner groups according to certain communication patterns which reveal insights into their collaborative needs. Drachsler is a computer scientist and Professor for Educational Technologies. He emphasizes the high relevance of data protection in the discipline: “The purpose of technology is solely to serve the learners' needs.“ To promote exchange in this field the team of organisers have done their utmost to ensure that the conference can take place even in the current situation.


Conference in a virtual space

The organisers have responded without delay and made sure that the conference, which was originally planned as a venue in Frankfurt am Main, can go online in a pioneering virtual format. Registered participants can, for example, dial into video conference rooms where live talks are broadcast from anywhere in the world. Moderated chats then offer an opportunity to pose and answer questions. Contributions are recorded, subject to contributors' consent. It is thus possible to flexibly watch the videos. Posters and applications are also presented in purely virtual settings. The programme spans long periods of the day, to accommodate for participants across seven time zones. The team is confident that the format with its spatial independence and flexible timing also offers incentives for future conferences.

Individuals who are interested should register by Tuesday, 24 March, 17 hrs CET to join LAK20. Please go here to register: https://lak20.solaresearch.org/registration

Thematically, the tenth LAK focuses on „shaping the future of the field". The conference is held once a year at alternating venues, under the auspices of the international network “Society for Learning Analytics Research“ (SoLAR). “Possible developmental lines will be traced for the next ten years and beyond. At the core, we will investigate ways of measuring learning and teaching and which insights can thus be gained, how they can be put to an optimal use and what needs to be considered regarding the different areas of implementation and scales of Learning Analytics", Dr. Christoph Rensing from the TU Darmstadt illustrates, a co-organiser of the LAK20.

Besides the general presentations, two keynotes are expected by international experts:

  •  „Learning Analytics – A field on the verge of relevance?“
    Prof. Dr. Shane Dawson, Director of the Teaching Innovation Unit, Co-Director of the Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning and Professor of Learning Analytics at the University of South Australia
  •  „Group Learning Analytics“
    Prof. Dr. Milena Tsvetkova, Assistant Professor at the Department of Methodology at the London School of Economics and Political Science

The team of LAK organisers is acting in a regional environment where the benefits and forms of implementing Learning Analytics are already being intensively discussed for the higher education area. Professor Drachsler and Dr. Rensing have thus initiated an innovation forum, as part of the project “Digitally supported teaching and learning in Hesse“, funded by the federal state of Hesse. Subject to this project, eleven universities in the state are designing innovative concepts for university teachers and students.

Further information on the conference can be found here: https://lak20.solaresearch.org/

Contact:
Learning Analytics: Prof. Dr. Hendrik Drachsler, +49 69-24708-870, drachsler@dipf.de
Press: Philip Stirm, DIPF, +49 69 24708-123, stirm@dipf.de, www.dipf.de

 

Mar 23 2020
12:58

​ Goethe University and University Hospital Frankfurt ask for funding for research, equipment and patient care

Urgent call for donations to Goethe-Corona Fund

FRANKFURT. At least five million euros – this is the sum that Goethe University and the University Hospital want to collect to better meet the challenges of the Corona pandemic. Anyone can help: the money is to be raised through the donation platform betterplace.org and will go primarily toward researching the coronavirus, the urgent training of employees, and patient care at the University Hospital. Direct donations are also possible (please see link and donation account at the end of this press release).

The Johanna Quandt University Foundation made the start: non-bureaucratically, and within 24 hours, it provided a quarter million euros for the corona researcher Professor Sandra Ciesek and her team. With this money, the virologists from Goethe University and University Hospital want to advance their search for effective treatment. But this is only a beginning. The corona crisis requires a substantial degree of additional exertion – and therefore a substantial amount of additional funding.

“Our call goes out to everyone who wants to not just marvel at the incredible challenges, but to provide tangible help: donate to the Goethe-Corona fund. Every contribution is important and welcome," says University President Professor Birgitta Wolff, appealing to people's willingness to help. “If we all want to weather this crisis well and perhaps even emerge from it stronger than before, now is the time to set the course. If the city and university communities close ranks – not physically, of course – we can master even great challenges. This is precisely why the university was founded over 100 years ago," Wolff adds. As Stiftungsuniversität (university foundation under public law), Goethe University has the necessary leeway to also take unorthodox paths to enable financing, says Wolff. In the name of the University, the University Hospital, and the patients affected, she already expresses thanks to everyone who with their donation contributes to an improvement of the situation.

To master the crisis scientifically, clinically and organisationally, Goethe University and the Frankfurt University Hospital require additional personnel in the short term, and financial means. For this reason, the Goethe Corona Fund was established with the intention that it will quickly increase to at least five million euros – with the help of donations from the general public, foundations, and other private sponsors. Toward this end, a donation page was set up on the platform Betterplace; direct transfers are also possible, and both provide a donation receipt. First commitments have already been made from the circle of researchers: a professor has already  announced a donation of 40,000 euros.

“The growing pandemic entails a growing financial need in many areas: for example, we need money for specific equipment and experts, training for additional helpers in the crisis, and also to equip our medical personnel with protective clothing, goggles and face masks," says Professor Jürgen Graf, medical director of the University Hospital. In research, particular focus is placed on the patient-oriented research conducted by Professor Sandra Ciesek and her team: the goal is to find a vaccine and medical treatment for the aggressive virus, and to improve the diagnosis procedure. “With the aid of the additional funds we can emphatically expedite this research," explains virologist Ciesek. To do so, employees with biostatistical or biomedical training need to be hired in order to process and analyse the generated clinical data. In addition, additional equipment is urgently needed in virological and intensive care research and development in order to carry out experiments and studies more quickly and efficiently.

But in teaching as well, financial support is urgently needed: students should have the opportunity to participate in training and simulation classes to prepare them for the difficult situations in clinical daily routine. For this, additional medical simulation mannequins are required. “We are quick to reach the limits of our capacity in this area, although there is tremendous interest and commitment on the part of the students," says Professor Josef Pfeilschifter, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Goethe University. Teaching, education and training also depend on realistic simulations.

Donations via our donation project on www.betterplace.org: https://www.betterplace.org/p78009

Or as wire transfer to the donation account:
Landesbank Hessen-Thüringen
IBAN: DE95 5005 0000 0001 0064 10
Purpose: Goethe-Corona-Fonds

Further information: Contact to Prof. Sandra Ciesek through the Frankfurt University Hospital: Christoph Lunkenheimer, University Hospital press officer, telephone: +49 69 6301-86442, christoph.lunkenheimer@kgu.de.

 

Mar 20 2020
11:06

Rhythmic neural signals determine the sounds that bats make

How the brain controls the voice

FRANKFURT. A particular neuronal circuit in the brains of bats controls their vocalisations. This was recently discovered by biologists at Goethe University Frankfurt. Based on the rhythm with which the circuit oscillated, the Frankfurt researchers were able to predict the kind of sounds the bats were about to make. These research results could contribute to a better understanding of human diseases in which language is impaired such as Parkinson's or Tourette syndrome.

Bats are famous for their sonar-based navigation. They use their extremely sensitive hearing for orientation, emitting ultrasound noises and receiving an image of their surroundings based on the echo. Seba's short-tailed bat (Carollia perspicillata), for example, finds the fruits that are its preferred food using this echolocation system. At the same time, bats also use their voices in a somewhat deeper frequency range to communicate with other members of their species. Seba's short-tailed bats employ a vocal range for this purpose that is otherwise only found among songbirds and humans. Like humans, they produce sound through the larynx.

Together with his team, neuroscientist Julio C. Hechavarria from the Institute for Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Goethe University investigated brain activity preceding vocalisation in Seba's short-tailed bats. The scientists were able to identify a group of nerve cells that create a circuitry from the frontal lobe to the corpus striatum in the interior of the brain. When this neural circuit fires off rhythmic signals, the bat emits a vocalisation about half a second later. The type of rhythm seemed to determine whether the bats were about to utter echolocation or communication vocalisations.

Since it is nearly impossible to make a prediction within half a second, the Frankfurt researchers trained a computer to test their hypothesis: The computer analysed the recorded sounds and the neural rhythm separately and attempted to make prognoses using the various rhythms. The result: in its predictions of echolocation versus communication vocalisations, the computer was correct about 80 percent of the time. Predictions were particularly accurate when considering signals from the frontal lobe, an area that in humans has been linked to action planning, among other functions.    

The Frankfurt scientists argue that the rhythms they observed in the bat brain are similar to neural rhythms often recorded from the human scalp, and concluded that brain rhythms could be linked to sound production in mammals in general.
Julio Hechavarria: “For over 50 years, bats have served as an animal model for studying how the brain processes auditory stimuli and how human language develops. For the first time, we were able to show how distant brain regions in bats communicate with each other during vocalization. At the same time, we know that the corresponding brain networks are impaired in individuals who, for example, stutter as a result of Parkinson's disease or emit involuntary noises due to Tourette syndrome. We therefore hope that by continuing to study vocal behaviour in bats, we can contribute to a better understanding of these human diseases."

Publication: Fronto-striatal oscillations predict vocal output in bats.
Kristin Weineck, Francisco García-Rosales, Julio C. Hechavarria; PLOS Biology DOI 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000658
https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000658

Images may be downloaded here: http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/86729013

Caption: The image shows that different vocalization-related neural signals occurring across frontal cortex laminae (left) precede the two types of sounds (right) uttered by bats (species: Carollia perspicillata). The sounds are shown as color-coded time-frequency representations. One example social call is shown in the top right and one example echolocation call in the bottom right. Copyright: Julio C. Hechavarria, Goethe University Frankfurt

Further information: Julio C. Hechavarria, Ph.D., Auditory Computations Group (group leader), Institut of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Goethe University Frankfurt, Phone +49 (0)69 798-42050, E-Mail: Hechavarria@bio.uni-frankfurt.de, https://www.julio-hechavarria.com/.

 

Mar 13 2020
13:00

The 2020 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers 

Judith Reichmann receives award for her research on the correct passage of chromosomes

The formation of gametes and the first cell divisions of the fertilized egg in mammals are prone to errors. Sometimes the wrong number of chromosomes is passed on to the offspring, or the first division leads to two nuclei instead of one in the two-cell embryo. In most cases, these errors result in miscarriages. Judith Reichmann has shown what leads to these errors in mouse embryos.

FRANKFURT am MAIN. Today, Dr. Judith Reichmann is receiving the €60,000 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers 2020. Dr. Reichmann, who works at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, researches the sources of chromosomal abnormalities in eggs and embryos of mice and their potential contribution to miscarriages. Mice synthesize a protein called Tex19.1, which maintains chromosome cohesion during the formation of oocytes and protects sperm cells from genetic damage. Without this protein, many mouse embryos have the wrong number of chromosomes and die after a few cell divisions. Errors also occur when the fertilized egg splits into two daughter cells. Reichmann was able to show that the paternal and maternal chromosome sets are not passed on via one but two mitotic spindles. As a result, the two sets of chromosomes sometimes drift apart during the cell division process so that the two-cell embryo ends up with two haploid cell nuclei instead of one diploid cell nucleus.

Reichmann discovered the dual spindle formation using light-sheet microscopy, which she developed further for this purpose. Mouse embryos do not tolerate continuous light exposure and therefore cannot be examined with a conventional microscope in high spatiotemporal resolution. This has precluded detailed live-imaging analyses in the past. In light-sheet microscopy, illumination occurs only in the plane that is actually being observed, while other parts of the embryo remain in the dark. "Judith Reichmann has shown how mice make sure that their offspring have the correct number of chromosomes, and only one cell nucleus. If this process fails, reproduction is compromised," the Scientific Council´s statement reads. "Reichmann's research may one day contribute to reducing the rate of miscarriages in women - provided that the sources of error identified in mice also apply to human reproduction".

Reichmann discovered that the Tex19.1 protein indirectly stabilizes the chromosomes during meiosis. This process ensures that the gametes enter fertilization with a single set of chromosomes, for without this process the number of chromosomes would double with each generation. In oocytes, stabilization of the chromosomes is needed because meiosis is interrupted for a long time and is only completed upon fertilization. When Tex19.1 is missing, the chromosomes drift apart in the egg. As a result, many embryos among the offspring do not inherit the correct number of chromosomes.

Reichmann's discovery of the dual spindles during the first cell division of the fertilized egg has toppled a textbook statement. Up to now, it had been assumed that the parental chromosomes merge in the fertilized egg and are distributed to the two daughter cells via a single spindle apparatus. Reichmann was able to show that the paternal and maternal chromosomes are grouped separately from each other in two spindles and are then distributed to the poles. Even in the nucleus of the two-cell embryo, maternal and paternal chromosomes initially remain in different hemispheres before they finally mix during subsequent cell divisions.

If Reichmann´s findings in mice also hold for human embryogenesis, and the human paternal and maternal chromosomes only merge in the two-cell embryo as well, a central assumption of the German Embryo Protection Act may have to be reconsidered. It states that human life begins when maternal and paternal chromosomes join; by this definition, the two-cell embryo rather than the zygote would take centre stage.

The Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers has been awarded since 2006 in recognition of outstanding achievements in biomedical research.

Short biography of Dr. Judith Reichmann
Judith Reichmann (35) studied applied biology at the University of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhein-Sieg. At the end of her studies, she moved to the University of Aberdeen in Scotland where she pursued a bachelor's degree in genetics. At the University of Edinburgh, she completed her doctorate on the development of oocyte and sperm cells. Reichmann came to EMBL as a postdoctoral fellow in 2012 to investigate cell division at the beginning of life using the latest microscopy techniques. She has been working as a research scientist at EMBL since 2017. Reichmann is married and has two children.

Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers
The Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers, awarded for the first time in 2006, is conferred once a year by the Paul Ehrlich Foundation on a young investigator working in Germany for his or her outstanding achievements in the field of biomedical research. The prize money must be used for research purposes. University faculty members and leading scientists at German research institutions are eligible for nomination. The selection of the prizewinner is made by the Scientific Council on a proposal by the eight-person selection committee.

The Paul Ehrlich Foundation
The Paul Ehrlich Foundation is a legally dependent foundation which is managed in a fiduciary capacity by the Association of Friends and Sponsors of the Goethe University, Frankfurt. The Honorary Chairman of the Foundation, which was established by Hedwig Ehrlich in 1929, is Professor Dr. Katja Becker, president of the German Research Foundation, who also appoints the elected members of the Scientific Council and the Board of Trustees. The Chairman of the Scientific Council is Professor Thomas Boehm, Managing Director at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, the Chair of the Board of Trustees is Professor Dr. Jochen Maas, Head of Research and Development and Member of the Management Board, Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland GmbH. Professor Wilhelm Bender, in his function as Chair of the Association of Friends and Sponsors of the Goethe University, is Member of the Scientific Council. The President of the Goethe University is at the same time a member of the Board of Trustees.

Further information
You can obtain selected publications, the list of publications and a photograph of the prizewinner from Dr. Hildegard Kaulen, phone: +49 (0) 6122/52718, e-mail: h.k@kaulen-wissenschaft.de and at www.paul-ehrlich-stiftung.de.

 

Mar 13 2020
12:54

The 2020 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize 

Coveted award for Shimon Sakaguchi honors the discovery of regulatory T cells and their role in self-toleranc

Attack or peacekeeping? Immune cells answer this question countless times a day. If they regularly missed the mark, it would have serious consequences for human health. The regulatory T cells discovered by Shimon Sakaguchi help the immune system to distinguish between friend and foe and are instrumental for achieving self-tolerance. Strengthening or weakening this peacekeeping force gives the immune system a kick or a damper. Both strategies can be harnessed to develop new treatments for human diseases.

FRANKFURT am MAIN. Tomorrow, Shimon Sakaguchi, professor of Experimental Immunology at Osaka University (Japan) will receive the 2020 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for his pioneering discoveries of regulatory T cells and their role in self-tolerance. These cells have the potential to become the new heroes of medicine. They keep the immune system in balance and ensure that it doesn´t run amok or becomes inattentive. "Without regulatory T cells, the immune system would not be able to correct errors in distinguishing between friend and foe with the necessary precision," explained the Scientific Council of the Paul Ehrlich Foundation when presenting the award. "The immune system needs such regulatory control, because overreaction leads to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes, whereas reduced activity gives cancer cells the opportunity to evade immune attack and eventually establish metastases. Therefore, Sakaguchi's discovery offers great potential for the development of new treatments."

Early on in his studies, Sakaguchi was convinced that an immunological peacekeeping force must exist in order to establish immune homeostasis. The difficulty he faced was that there was no molecular marker that would allow him to identify and isolate these cells. Therefore, Sakaguchi set out to search for such a telltale feature. After many years of painstaking work, he demonstrated that the surface protein CD25 is a reliable marker for these cells. "The discovery of CD25 was a watershed in immunological research. It proved the existence of regulatory T-cells and pointed a way forward to isolate and characterize them in greater detail," said Professor Thomas Boehm, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, and Chairman of the Scientific Council. "This seminal discovery has given the field of immune regulation an enormous boost. Suddenly, many scientists became interested in the biology and use of regulatory T cells."

Subsequently, Sakaguchi was able to show that Foxp3 is the central on/off switch of regulatory T cells, a finding that was quickly confirmed by others. This discovery established an unexpected connection between regulatory T cells and a rare congenital syndrome known as IPEX, which had been shown to be due to the lack of Foxp3. IPEX patients develop severe autoimmune diseases shortly after birth, often leading to early death. Thus, the medical relevance of Sakaguchi´s earlier discovery of regulatory T cells became obvious: patients with IPEX syndrome suffered from lack of an immunological peacekeeping force.

Because of their fundamental importance for the immune system, the manipulation of regulatory T cells offers new forms of treatment for a wide range of conditions. In the case of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, their activity must be strengthened so that they can take more decisive action against inappropriate attacks on the body's own tissue. In cancer, the activity of regulatory T cells needs to be attenuated. Although they no longer adhere to their normal cellular program, cancer cells are often not considered foreign by the immune system. Hence, the protection of tumor cells by regulatory T cells is unfortunate, as this prevents them from being eliminated. Therefore, to eliminate the tumor´s camouflage, regulatory T cells, which are disproportionately abundant in tumors, must be either reduced in number or their activity diminished to allow an efficient attack on the tumor.

Attenuation of regulatory T cell activity, however, needs to be very precisely controlled, both in space and in time, for they are needed elsewhere in the body to maintain immune homeostasis. "The challenge is to manipulate regulatory T cells only at the site of the tumor," Thomas Boehm explains. "In one approach, Sakaguchi is attempting to convert tumor resident regulatory T cells into conventional T-cells, which then switch sides and participate in attack. If this strategy is successful, an essential component of the body´s peacekeeping force will be converted into an aggressor directed at the malignant tissue ".

At present, various strategies for the treatment of autoimmune diseases and cancer based on the manipulation of regulatory T cells are being evaluated, although these approaches are still in an early phase of clinical development. As with many groundbreaking ideas, therapeutic application requires a long period of painstaking work before they can be offered to patients.

Short biography of Professor Shimon Sakaguchi
Professor Shimon Sakaguchi, M.D. (69) is a medical doctor. He studied medicine at Kyoto University in Japan, then moved to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore as a post-doctoral fellow and then to Stanford University in California. In 1989 he became an "Assistant Professor" at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. In 1991, Sakaguchi returned to Japan and worked at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology and later at the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences at Kyoto University, where he was temporarily director. Since 2011, he has been working at Osaka University. In 2012 he became a Foreign Member of the American National Academy of Sciences and in 2017 the Japanese government appointed him "Person of Cultural Merit". Sakaguchi has received many awards, including the William B. Coley Award from the Cancer Research Institute, the Keio Medical Science Prize, the Canada Gairdner International Award and the Crafoord Prize. Last year he was awarded the "German Immunology Prize 2019".

The Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize
The Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize is traditionally awarded on Paul Ehrlich's birthday, March 14, in the Paulskirche, Frankfurt. It honors scientists who have made significant contributions in Paul Ehrlich's field of research, in particular immunology, cancer research, microbiology, and chemotherapy. The Prize, which has been awarded since 1952, is financed by the German Federal Ministry of Health, the German association of research-based pharmaceutical company vfa e.V. and specially earmarked donations from the following companies, foundations and organizations: Christa Verhein Stiftung, Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung, Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland GmbH, C.H. Boehringer Sohn AG & Co. KG, Biotest AG, Hans und Wolfgang Schleussner-Stiftung, Fresenius SE & Co. KGaA, F. Hoffmann-LaRoche Ltd., Grünenthal Group, Janssen-Cilag GmbH, Merck KGaA, Bayer AG, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, AbbVie Deutschland GmbH & Co. KG, die Baden-Württembergische Bank, B. Metzler seel. Sohn & Co. and Goethe-Universität. The prizewinner is selected by the Scientific Council of the Paul Ehrlich Foundation.

The Paul Ehrlich Foundation
The Paul Ehrlich Foundation is a legally dependent foundation which is managed in a fiduciary capacity by the Association of Friends and Sponsors of the Goethe University, Frankfurt. The Honorary Chairman of the Foundation, which was established by Hedwig Ehrlich in 1929, is Professor Dr. Katja Becker, president of the German Research Foundation, who also appoints the elected members of the Scientific Council and the Board of Trustees. The Chairman of the Scientific Council is Professor Thomas Boehm, Managing Director at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, the Chair of the Board of Trustees is Professor Dr. Jochen Maas, Head of Research and Development and Member of the Management Board, Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland GmbH. Professor Wilhelm Bender, in his function as Chair of the Association of Friends and Sponsors of the Goethe University, is Member of the Scientific Council. The President of the Goethe University is at the same time a member of the Board of Trustees.

Further information
You can obtain selected publications, the list of publications and a photograph of the laureate from Dr. Hildegard Kaulen, phone: +49 (0)6122/52718, email: h.k@kaulen-wissenschaft.de and at www.paul-ehrlich-stiftung.de