Lymphangiogenesis and GvHD: hematology meets ophthalmology

The DFG research unit FOR 2240 at the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Cologne hosted hematologist PD Dr. Olaf Penack from Berlin on the 18th of August, 2016. He met with the Speaker of FOR 2240 (Prof. Dr. Claus Cursiefen) and the Principle Investigators of central project 1 (PD Dr. Philipp Steven), project 1 (PD Dr. Felix Bock), and project 5 (Dr. med. Dipl. Mol.-Med. Deniz Hos) before holding a lecture on “The role of the endothelium in allogeneic transplantations”.

A specialty of the FOR 2240 is that it targets lymphangiogenesis in the development of new medicines, with one of the fields of application involving the treatment of (ocular) Graft-versus-Host Disease (GvHD). Ocular GvHD, with symptoms showing up in the eye, can occur after a blood stem cell transplantation takes place. Once in progress, GvHD has dire effects on other organs as well. The possibilities for focusing on lymphangiogenesis in general cases of GvHD have caught the interest of Dr. Penack. The basic idea is that both GvHD and graft rejection are associated with the unbeneficial sprouting and growth of lymph vessels.  The focus of Project 1 of the FOR 2240 is on targeting lymphangiogenesis to combat complications of transplantations that also involve ocular tissues, corneal transplantations in particular. A major player in extending these results and those of other FOR 2240 projects to work on GvHD within the FOR 2240 is PD Dr. Philipp Steven, and this is certainly a promising area for further developments.

The Cologne specialty of work on ocular graft-versus-host disease, in particular the interdisciplinary cooperation of the Cologne Competence Center for Ocular GvHD (read more about that here), sparked PD Dr. Penack’s interest in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Cologne from yet another angle. He sees the cooperation with eye specialists as especially promising for the work he is doing in Berlin. Like skin, the eye is an easily accessible organ that can be examined with little or no invasion. The advantage of focusing on the eye is that it exhibits clear, early symptoms in the onset of graft-versus-host disease.

PD Dr. Penack is a Senior Physician for Bone Marrow Transplantation in the Division of Hematology, Oncololgy and Tumor Immunology at Charité Hospital of Berlin. He is the leader of an experimental research group there that is developing strategies to prevent and treat graft-versus-host disease after stem cell transplantations involving blood-forming cells, for example those from bone marrow (HSCT). Their focus has been on endothelium-targeted therapies.