29 December 2008. As scientists around the world enjoy their holiday family retreat, a few of them may recall a recent gathering of a different sort. There has come to be an unmistakable family feeling to the annual Eibsee conference, where many of Germany’s leading Alzheimer disease researchers meet with a few invited international colleagues at a scenic little lake in southern Bavaria. Nestled in picturesque isolation at the foot of Germany’s tallest mountain, the Zugspitze, the hotel hosting this conference cocooned the 85 attendees into a meeting room, a restaurant, and a bar with a fireplace from October 29 to November 1, ensuring ample time for discussion, exchange of ideas, and occasional commiseration.
Organized annually by Christian Haass and his colleagues Regina Fluhrer and Andrea Dankwardt at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Muenchen, the Eibsee Meeting on Cellular Mechanisms of Alzheimer’s Disease brings together many of the grant recipients of the Collaborative Research Center 596. This is a funding mechanism through the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the German equivalent of NIH funding. In his introductory remarks, Haass noted that this funding vehicle, which began in 2001 and undergoes international review every four years, has fostered collaboration across institutional boundaries at the various institutes pursuing neurodegeneration research in Munich, Germany’s historic center of that field, and among institutions in other cities. In addition, the Eibsee conference invites some of its international reviewers and other prominent AD scientists. This year, speakers included Todd Golde of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, Bart de Strooper of the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology in Leuven, Belgium, Huilin Li of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, Robert Vassar of Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, Philip Wong of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, Ganesh Shankar of Harvard Medical School, Guriqbal Basi of Elan Pharmaceuticals in South San Francisco, and Melanie Meyer-Luehmann of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Besides the science itself, discussion at meals and the bar revolved around life as a neurodegeneration scientist in Germany and Belgium these days. On the whole, European researchers had few complaints about the funding situation in their respective countries. Getting their data published is getting more difficult for some, however. Scientists talked about how they are spending increasing amounts of time contending with negative reviews and reformatting manuscripts for repeated submission as their papers get rejected. Besides cutting into research time, this slows the dissemination of new findings as even established groups can spend a year or more securing publication of a given study. The solution scientists advocated was for each reviewer to work toward a less rivalrous process. The technical standards in AD research have risen in the past decade, de Strooper said, adding that AD researchers as a group can support each other by balancing technical rigor with good faith and letting the field serve as the corrective. If a high-profile paper years later has generated no follow-up in the literature, it often means other labs were unable to replicate the finding. The sentiment was that overall, this is better than slowing publication of deserving manuscripts.
To quote one example, Golde presented an example of a recent study that is controversial and might have been rejected for publication in Nature. The paper reported that certain NSAIDs bind not the γ-secretase, as was assumed, but instead the Aβ region of APP itself (Kukar et al., 2008). Despite what Golde believes was multi-pronged evidence to support the main conclusion, he noted that one reviewer discouraged publication of the data. The editor overrode, and independent colleagues in several labs are now testing the paper’s claims. For one, Gerd Multhaup of the University of Berlin, reported at the Eibsee that by using a different technical approach, his group has also detected direct binding of such NSAIDs to the same Aβ sequence (see also Part 2 of this series). In time, the literature will show how the finding stood up.
A separate issue that had tongues wagging was a major initiative by the German government, announced in its raw outline this past spring, to create a new national research center dedicated to neurodegenerative diseases. To be called Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (DZNE), the center will be based in the provincial city of Bonn, the country’s former capital, with sites in Munich, Tuebingen, Goettingen, and the eastern cities of Magdeburg and Witten. To the surprise of many, more established centers for AD research such as Heidelberg, Hamburg, or Berlin, were not chosen as key nodes in this future research network. The goal is to integrate research across the domains of basic mechanisms, translational studies, and also patient care. The Alzforum will cover that effort in its own right as it gets underway.
This space will feature a series of summaries of the major themes, as well as selected highlights from the 30 talks and 18 posters at this conference. Meanwhile, the Eibsee gallery features shots of the setting, speakers, and more.—Gabrielle Strobel.
- Eibsee: Keynote on Anti-amyloid Drugs, Prevention
- Eibsee: Still Game for γ—Sparring With a Formidable Enzyme
- Eibsee: Channel Vanishes in Sharper Image
- Eibsee: Soft Cocktail—In Search of Gentle Knocks To BACE and γ
- Eibsee: Antibody Binding Crystal Clear; New Vaccine in the Mix
- Eibsee: A Step Toward Seeing Tau in the Living Brain
- Kukar TL, Ladd TB, Bann MA, Fraering PC, Narlawar R, Maharvi GM, Healy B, Chapman R, Welzel AT, Price RW, Moore B, Rangachari V, Cusack B, Eriksen J, Jansen-West K, Verbeeck C, Yager D, Eckman C, Ye W, Sagi S, Cottrell BA, Torpey J, Rosenberry TL, Fauq A, Wolfe MS, Schmidt B, Walsh DM, Koo EH, Golde TE. Substrate-targeting gamma-secretase modulators. Nature. 2008 Jun 12;453(7197):925-9. PubMed.
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