Inhalation of toxic substances can result in considerable damage to the airways and the lungs. Such deleterious compounds, which include reactive oxygen species, are found in cigarette smoke, fine dust particles, diesel exhaust. Indeed, some even find use in chemical weapons. In light of the broad reactivity of these ‘toxic inhalation hazards’ (TIHs), the damage they cause to the lung has generally been regarded as non-specific, which effectively means that treatments simply alleviate symptoms. The new DFG-funded Graduate School on Toxicological Target Structures – Dissecting Therapeutic Targets in Pulmonary Toxicology will take a new approach to the treatment of environmentally induced lung damage: “We intend to elucidate the specific mechanisms that underlie lung damage, with the long-term goal of developing more effective therapies,” explains Professor Thomas Gudermann of LMU’s Walther Straub Institute for Pharmacology and Toxicology, the Coordinator of the new Graduate School.
Recent work has shown that toxic inhalation hazards (TIHs) are in fact recognized and bound by specific receptor molecules on the cells of that makeup the respiratory epithelia. This receptor-ligand interaction activates certain intracellular signal pathways, which then trigger a cellular response. The response may be an acute inflammatory reaction that is rapidly resolved, or a sterile reaction that becomes chronic, leading to fibrosis of the lung. The primary goal of the new Graduate School is to obtain a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying such reactions by identifying cellular targets for novel therapeutic drugs that modulate acute, and suppress chronic damage to the lung induced by TIHs. To achieve this methodologically challenging goal, specialists in a range of fields in the biosciences will work together in interdisciplinary teams. Research groups based at LMU will be joined in this effort by colleagues at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the German Armed Forces’ Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
Funding for the new Graduate School includes provision for 18 doctoral candidates, and places for a further 10 doctoral students funded by other programs will also be made available. “The program is intended to attract highly talented graduates in the biosciences and medicine,” says Gudermann. It not only provides junior researchers with specialized training in Pulmonary Pathophysiology, but also equips them with a broad-based schooling in Toxicology. A special feature of the training program is the markedly international character of both its academic and industrial networks, which in turn open up a wide range of contacts and opportunities for further education. The primary educational aim of the graduate school is to produce highly trained and skilled toxicologists who have the qualifications required for leadership positions in universities, in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries and in public administration, and are equipped to face the social issues raised by the ongoing increase in the numbers of chemicals under production.