Dr Assmus, you lead a research group at the Frankfurt LOEWE Center for Cell and Gene Therapy. What are you and your team working on? Our goal is to provide long-term support for patients who have suffered an acute heart attack and have chronic heart failure by treating them with their own stem cells from their bone marrow. We are conducting clinical trials for this purpose: Which patients do the stem cells help? How do the cells have to be prepared so that they function in the patient? Can the stem cells be better prepared for their task in the patient? Cell therapy is already a very reliable therapeutic approach today. We want to develop it even further so that it can be used beyond clinical trials too.
For many people, stem cells are a controversial topic that is associated with great ethical concerns. How do you view this? I understand the reservations about working with embryonic stem cells - for ethical and safety reasons. However, we work exclusively with a patient's own adult stem cells that are isolated from his or her bone marrow. We prepare the cells in the laboratory and then use them on the patient's heart that has been weakened by the attack. This helps us achieve a measurable improvement in cardiac performance after a severe heart attack – marking significant progress compared to drugs that have only aimed to maintain the impaired status quo in the past.
How closely do you work with the patient? How much time do you have for research? I work in the clinic as a normal senior physician and am responsible for a monitoring ward and cardiac ultrasound operations. Of course, acute patient care is always the top priority. In the day-to-day running of the clinic, you have to fight for space to conduct research and that is not possible without the support of your superiors. Both areas are very important to me: I enjoy working directly with patients, for example, in my special clinic for cardiac insufficiency. At the same time, this constantly reminds me of the relevance of our research work and encourages me to make further progress.
How is your work in the clinic compatible with your family life? I no longer work shifts, which is a great advantage. Nevertheless, it is still not easy to find enough time to spend with my two small children, especially since neither emergencies nor research activities comply with fixed schedules. This only works because my husband is fully behind me and gives me maximum support. You have been qualified as a university lecturer for five years. How do you want to continue? I would like to continue to combine the clinic and my research activities and press ahead with the patient-oriented development of therapies in interdisciplinary cooperation. If I can combine this with a professorship at some stage – so much the better.
About the Person
- Cardiac specialist
- Project Manager at the LOEWE Centre for Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT)