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DGP-Research Prize 2024 for best basic scientific work

Environmental Health, LHI,

Janine Gote-Schniering and Niklas Lang (LHI) described the cellular changes in the early stages of pulmonary fibrosis.

This scientific research will make an important contribution to future therapy development for pulmonary fibrosis: Janine Gote-Schniering (photo left) and Niklas Lang (photo right) from the Institute for Lung Health and Immunity (LHI, Helmholtz Munich) investigated the so-called precision-cut Lung slice model (PCLS), to what extent fibrosis processes can be induced in healthy human lung tissue sections. In addition, the two young scientists recapitulated central fibrosis mechanisms at the single cell level using complex single-cell genomics and AI-supported analyses. The German Society for Pulmonology and Respiratory Medicine (DGP) has now awarded the work with the Pulmonology Research Prize 2024 as the best basic scientific work. It is endowed with 10,000 euros.

Professor Wolfram Windisch, DGP President and spokesman for the jury, confirms that the Munich research duo in the lab of LHI group leader Herbert Schiller has excellent potential: “Their work is characterized by a particularly high level of scientific relevance. You undoubtedly deserve first place!”

Research duo contributes to a better understanding of pulmonary fibrosis

In pulmonary fibrosis, for which there is still no effective treatment method, the lung tissue becomes increasingly scarred so that those affected can no longer receive sufficient oxygen when breathing. Previous models for the representation and analysis of pulmonary fibrosis only examined the cells involved individually or under artificial conditions and therefore did not reflect the great complexity of the lungs. “With our human precision cut lung slices model, or hPCLS model for short, we can map the entire cell structure of the human lung in 3D,” explains 26-year-old Niklas Lang. “This hPCLS model represents reality much better than usual in vitro models.”

To do this, both employees at Helmholtz Munich cut the examined lung tissue into extremely thin slices and treated them with factors that trigger pulmonary fibrosis. By integrating modern single-cell genomics with AI-powered analyzes and data from diverse patient cohorts, Lang and Gote-Schniering then examined disease-specific cell activities and response to antifibrotic drugs. “This enabled us to sequence and measure the mRNA in hundreds of thousands or even millions of individual cells in parallel,” says Niklas Lang. “This allowed us to systematically investigate the extent to which the hPCLS model recapitulates the characteristic cellular changes of the human disease.”

The results are promising: “For the first time, we were able to use the hPCLS model to describe the cellular changes in the early stages of pulmonary fibrosis,” says Janine Gote-Schniering, explaining the relevance of her basic research. “So far, the analysis has been mainly limited to tissue in the late course of the disease, such as transplants,” the 32-year-old continued. A milestone!

Original publication:

Ex vivo tissue perturbations coupled to single-cell RNA-seq reveal multilineage cell circuit dynamics in human lung fibrogenesis”, Sci Transl Med, Dec 2023