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Meet Prof Stefanie Dimmeler, winner of the 2022 Otto Warburg Medal

April 8, 2022

By Petra Ullrich

Quote by Professor Stefanie Dimmeler

The Director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Regeneration at Goethe University talks about her pioneering research on the treatment of cardiovascular diseases

This year’s Otto Warburg Medalopens in new tab/window Laureate is Prof Dr Stefanie Dimmeleropens in new tab/window, Director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Regenerationopens in new tab/window at the Centre for Molecular Medicine at Goethe University, Frankfurt on the Main. Her research focuses on developing new cellular and pharmacological approaches to improve the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Pioneering in this research field, Prof Dimmeler and her team succeeded in using an inhibitor against a non-coding RNA to improve blood flow and strengthen cardiac function.

This prestigious award been conferred by the German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (GBM)opens in new tab/window since 1963. Prof Dimmeler personally accepted the award in a ceremony at the 73rd Mosbacher Kolloquiumopens in new tab/window last week.

Prof Dr Stefanie Dimmeler accepts the Otto Warburg Medal

Prof Dr Stefanie Dimmeler accepts the Otto Warburg Medal. From left: Joe d`Angelo, Executive Publisher, Biochemistry and Biophysics, Elsevier; Ulrich Brandt, Editor-in-Chief, BBA; Stefanie Dimmeler; Blanche Schwappach-Pignataro, President, GBM.

Recently, I interviewed Prof Dimmeler about the importance of her research, her experience as a woman in science, and the guiding criteria and factors to conduct outstanding research.

Cardiovascular diseases are among the leading causes of death worldwide. You and your team have laid important foundations for the development of new therapeutic approaches to improve the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Could you explain what your findings mean for all of us and society overall?

We have discovered several non-coding RNAs, which have important function in the cardiovascular system. For example, we have found a miRNA, namely miR-34, which contributes to cardiac aging, and miR-92a, which impairs the vasculature. Inhibition of such microRNAs may provide novel therapeutic options. For miR-92a, we already have further developed inhibitors, which were tested in first human clinical studies. However, we still have to go a long way to show that they are really useful as new drugs to improve cardiovascular health.

At age 25, you received your doctorate from the University of Konstanzopens in new tab/window, and by 30, you led the department of Molecular Cardiology at Goethe University in Frankfurt, taking over as Chair just three years later. Can you tell us about your experience as one of the youngest researchers in the field? How did this influence the way you conduct research today?

I never was thinking about my career stage when interacting with the international and diverse scientific community, but I of course profit a lot from being longer in the field: I personally know the history behind the scenes — the ups and downs of research fields. I am grateful for having the chance to meet so many exciting scientists over the years and being part of large, diverse networks.The only occasion when age was a disadvantage was when I became a professor. It is tough to be accepted and feel comfortable if you are young and female in a male-dominated traditional medical faculty. I often was the only female professor and the youngest in the ‘old boys’ club.’ Fortunately, this has been changing during the last decades; I become older and the environment more female!

For more than 50 years, the Otto Warburg Medal has been one of the most prestigious life science awards in Germany. In celebration of the 10th anniversary of our partnership, Elsevier is especially proud the GBM recognizes innovative female scientists working in the area of biochemistry and molecular biology. Do you see a special role for women in science? How could this be amplified into the efforts being taken in the STEM field?

I do not see a special role for women: as scientists, they are as good as men. But they should have all of the same opportunities. I hope that being a role model may encourage younger female scientists to pursue their career and follow their visions.

What do you think are guiding criteria and factors to conduct outstanding quality research? Is there any advice that you would give to early career researchers, particularly young women?

This is a difficult question. I guess the most important is to address exciting and important questions, but at the same time make sure that they are not overambitious. I feel that particularly junior investigators are suffering from being more critically judged regarding the feasibility of their research. For young women, I wish that they would be more open to accept help — there are many opportunities for women to get support, but often this money and support measures are not used.

What does your research in the near future look like? What plans do you have?

My wish is to further develop RNA therapeutics for cardiovascular disease; for this, I now need the help of the biotech industry since this goes beyond the capacities of an academic group. In my lab, I am currently working on exploring the cellular communication pathways at single cell resolution with the aim to understand whether impaired interactions may be one major cause for cardiovascular aging.

The Otto Warburg Medal

As one of the most highly esteemed science awards in Germany, the Otto Warburg Medalopens in new tab/window has been conferred by the German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (GBM)opens in new tab/window since 1963. It honors outstanding, internationally recognized results in fundamental biochemical and molecular biological research.

Since 2012, GBM has been cooperating with Elsevier and its flagship title BBA – Biochemica et Biophysica Actaopens in new tab/window. From their early beginnings, both the GBM and Elsevier have been devoted to supporting and enhancing excellence in research. With the Otto Warburg Medal, they join forces to acknowledge pioneering achievements by outstanding international scientists, thereby inspiring young researchers and attracting the wider public’s interest in science. Elsevier and its journal BBA are the exclusive sponsors of this medal, with a prize of €25,000 to support continued research by the awardees.

Otto Warburg medal

Otto Warburg medal

Professor Stefanie Dimmeler, PhD

Prof Dr Stefanie Dimmeler is Director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Regenerationopens in new tab/window at the Centre for Molecular Medicine at the Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, and laureate of the 2022 Otto Warburg Medalopens in new tab/window. She is recipient of many awards and honors, including the prestigious Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prizeopens in new tab/window (2005) and the Ernst Jung Prizeopens in new tab/window (2007). She is also among the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchersopens in new tab/window since 2014.

A biologist and biochemist, Prof Dimmeler specializes in the pathophysiological processes underlying cardiovascular diseases. Throughout the past years, her research has focused on the development of cellular and pharmacological therapeutical approaches to improve cardiovascular regeneration. By successfully using an inhibitor against a non-coding RNA to improve blood flow and strengthen cardiac function, Prof Dimmeler has made an important contribution to understanding cardiovascular diseases and their treatment.