The Research Day of University Medicine Halle brings together young scientists once a year, giving them the opportunity to present their research and promoting exchange. On May 5th, 2023, the Research Day was held for the eighth time already. This year, several PhD students of our Research Training Group presented their research in short talks and on posters.

Elise Arlt investigates the influence of natural killer cells (NK cells) on the early stages of inflammation-associated carcinogenesis in the pancreas. As part of the innate immune system, NK cells play a significant role in the body's fight against cancer. "If NK cells are not functioning properly, a carcinoma can easily spread. Conversely, a developing carcinoma inhibits NK cell function," the PhD student explains. "Our goal is to shed light on the mechanisms and time course of this phenomenon and make it measurable. In our most recent project, we were able to detect NK cell defects in the blood at a clinically inconspicuous, preliminary stage of pancreatic cancer." Her research at the Institute for Anatomy and Cell Biology focuses on a genetically modified mouse model that mimics early inflammation-associated carcinogenesis in the pancreas. The trained veterinarian molecularly characterizes NK cells from the blood and pancreatic tissue of these mice and compares them with the NK cells of healthy littermates. In her work, she also looks at sex-specific differences: "There is an increasing awareness in medicine that the pathophysiology of diseases can differ greatly between the sexes. We were able to show that both the speed at which this carcinoma develops as well as the response of NK cells is strongly sex-dependent." With her poster, Elise Arlt was able to convince the expert jury - she was awarded one of the poster prizes worth 200 euros.

Maryam Khosravian’s research focuses on pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PanNETs). PanNETs account for about five percent of all pancreatic tumors and originate from hormone-producing cells in the pancreatic islets. For example, the most common pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, insulinoma, secretes the blood sugar-lowering insulin. In recent years, the transcription factor CUX1 has been shown to play a significant role in tumor progression and therapy resistance in PanNETs. Transcription factors are proteins that regulate a cell's protein biosynthesis. "My research aims to unravel the molecular mechanisms by which the transcription factor CUX1 promotes PanNET tumor progression," the PhD student explains. In the laboratory of the Clinic of Internal Medicine I, Maryam Koshravian studies PanNET cell cultures in which she silences the CUX1 gene (knockdown). Using molecular biology methods, she characterizes these tumor cells and gains detailed insights into the pathophysiological significance of CUX1 via RNA expression profiles and proteome analyses. Maryam Khosravian's research has the potential to influence drug therapy in PanNETs: "We have identified several potential targets for pharmacological therapy in PanNETs that are regulated by CUX1. In the future, drugs could target these to improve the therapy and prognosis of patients with PanNETs."

The first retreat of our research training group took place on December 2nd and 3rd, 2022 at the LEUCOREA in Wittenberg. Here, in 1502, the University of Wittenberg was founded, which later became our Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. The conference rooms of the LEUCOREA - the foundation that today cultivates science at the historic site of the University of Wittenberg - were thus ideally suited to host our first retreat. For the retreats, all members of the RTG come together once a year to promote academic exchange and scientific collaboration.

At this first retreat of our RTG, the focus was particularly on getting to know each other. Over the course of the two days, the PhD students presented their respective projects in presentations, which were followed by short discussions about the doctoral project and the current state of their research. With Professor Dieter Saur (Technical University of Munich), Professor Maximilian Reichert (Technical University of Munich) and Laura Roth, MD (research stay at Harvard University), we were able to attract top-class scientists for lectures on current advances in the field of pancreatic cancer research. A workshop on presenting scientific results in front of an audience was also offered for the PhD students.

Whether at the joint meals, the breaks between the lectures or the evening program – the retreat offered our doctoral students many opportunities to get to know each other and the other members of the RTG personally. With a guided tour through the Lutherstadt Wittenberg - including a visit to the famous Theses door of the castle church, on which Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses in 1517 – the project leaders, PhD students and guests got to know the city on Friday evening. The evening was rounded off with a glass of mulled wine at the Christmas market.

On Saturday, the joint breakfast was followed by several presentations and lectures. Finally, at the end of the two days, Professor Patrick Michl was officially bid farewell as spokesman of the RTG. Professor Michl took up his appointment as the new Director of the Department of Gastroenterology at Heidelberg University Hospital in November. He is succeeded as spokesman by Professor Jonas Rosendahl, acting director of the Clinic for Internal Medicine I and head of the Pancreatic Inflammation Research Group at the University Hospital Halle.