German Science Day

Prof. Hans-Georg Rammensee

Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Rammensee

I started to work on immunology in 1979, with the specific aim of using tumor immunology to fight against cancer. My first research projects were on minor histocompatibility antigens, which revealed some similarity to tumor antigens: weak immunogens, MHC-restricted, nature completely unknown at that time. After contributing to the areas of genetics and immune regulation (“veto cells”), I showed that central tolerance to such antigens is MHC restricted (Rammensee HG, Bevan MJ., Nature 1984; 308:741). Later, I identified the first minor H antigen (Rammensee HG et al., Nature 1986; 319:502).
After setting up my own research group, we 1) showed that minor H antigens are peptides presented by MHC (Nature 1990; 343:275, Science 1990; 249:283); 2) identified the first naturally processed viral T cell epitopes (Nature 1990; 348:252; 634 citations), 3) for the first time eluted and identified peptides directly from MHC, and discovered the nature of MHC peptide specificity (“motifs”) (Nature 1991; 351:290; 1882 citations; featured in “pillars of immunology”, J Immunol. 2006 Sep 1; 177(5):2741-7), 4) showed that MHC itself contributes to processing of peptides (Nature 1990; 348:248), 5) demonstrated, for the first time, induction of T cell anergy in vivo (Nature 1989; 339: 541; 542 citations), 6) used a covalent peptide/TLR-ligand compound for efficient immunization (Nature 1989; 342:561; 521 citations). Building on the MHC/peptide work, we were the first group to exactly predict T cell epitopes. We then systematically developed bioinformatic tools for this purpose, e.g., our database SYFPEITHI, which is the gold standard in this field (Immunogenetics 1995; 41:178; 1212 citations).
Several of my former PhD students or postdocs have achieved leading positions. E.g., my first PhD student, Hansjörg Schild, is now chair of Immunology at the University of Mainz; Christian Münz is full professor for Experimental Immunology at the University of Zürich, Dept. of Pathology, and thus, the successor of Rolf Zinkernagel; Alexander Steinle is full professor for Molecular Medicine at the University of Frankfurt/M; Olaf Rötzschke is group leader at the Singapore Immunology Network (BIOPOLIS); Eckhard Lammert is full professor and chair of the Institute for Zoophysiology at the University of Düsseldorf; and Harpreet Singh is CSO of immatics biotechnologies.
More recently, I am frequently invited to write comments on new developments in immunology by the leading journals, e.g., Rammensee HG. Peptides made to order. Immunity. 2006; 25:693; Rammensee HG. Immunology: protein surgery. Nature. 2004; 427:203; Rammensee HG. Survival of the fitters. Nature. 2002; 419:443.
In recent years, we have combined basic research on MHC biology with translational research; thus, I could build upon 20 years of research by finally bringing tumor immunology into clinical practice, together with expert clinicians. This work has led already to two flourishing spin-off companies (immatics and CureVac), both in clinical phase I and phase II trials. Please look in the ASCO 2010 (June 4th – 8th in Chicago) reports on their latest results! I now intend to use the next 10 years to bring truly individualized cancer immunotherapy (something big pharma is not interested so far) into the clinic, taking advantage of the latest technological advances in genome sequencing and peptidome analysis.

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