In the south wing of the cas­tle of Linz, more than 400 peo­ple inter­est­ed in sci­ence expe­ri­enced an ACADEMIA SUPERIOR DIALOGUE with the two top geneti­cists Univ.-Prof. Dr. Josef Pen­ninger and Univ.-Prof. Dr. Markus Hengstschläger. Fas­ci­nat­ing insights into gene research of the future, eth­i­cal ques­tions on the lim­its of research, but also con­crete ideas on how sci­ence could be bet­ter pro­mot­ed in Aus­tria were discussed.

Medicine is facing a new revolution

We are already in the midst of a great sci­en­tif­ic-med­ical rev­o­lu­tion: if it becomes pos­si­ble to gen­er­ate human stem cells — those cells from which all oth­er cells arise — from nor­mal human cells, then human tis­sues and organs can be grown from them. „This opens up com­plete­ly new pos­si­bil­i­ties for research into dis­eases that in turn will lead to rad­i­cal­ly new ther­a­pies and med­i­cines”, said Josef Pen­ninger opti­misti­cal­ly, stress­ing that this devel­op­ment would be a sur­prise fac­tor for many people.

With Markus Pen­ninger, the Sci­en­tif­ic Direc­tor of the Insti­tute for Mol­e­c­u­lar Biotech­nol­o­gy, IMBA, Markus Hengstschläger wel­comed one of the world’s lead­ing geneti­cists to the DIALOG in Linz. With around 200 employ­ees at the IMBA in Vien­na, Pen­ninger oper­ates pio­neer­ing genet­ic research. For exam­ple, in the fight against can­cer or human self-heal­ing pow­ers: „I believe that our hearts have the poten­tial to com­plete­ly repair them­selves, for exam­ple after a heart attack”, said Pen­ninger, whose team has recent­ly achieved ini­tial suc­cess­es in basic research in this direc­tion with lab­o­ra­to­ry mice.

By research­ing the genet­ic mech­a­nisms in mice — which are very sim­i­lar to those of humans — Pen­ninger began his stud­ies in Cana­da in the nineties, where he quick­ly achieved suc­cess and was involved in the fun­da­men­tal research on today’s pos­si­ble treat­ment of many osteo­poro­sis dis­eases. „Courage is the most impor­tant thing for a researcher, you have to move on unfa­mil­iar paths and do crazy things, with­out know­ing whether some­thing comes out”, he replied to the ques­tion of Markus Hengstschläger after his secret recipe as a scientist.

Make local research world-class

Penninger’s Hengstschläger also want­ed to know what pol­i­tics can do to pro­mote research: „I think it is the fun­da­men­tal task of sci­ence to offer solu­tions to prob­lems for pol­i­tics and not to crit­i­cize them for what they can not or do not under­stand”, Pen­ninger con­tin­ued. „We need to build a high-tech play­ground where the world’s most tal­ent­ed chil­dren can feel com­fort­able and play. This gives us the best minds and the best ideas.” Above all, this requires more mon­ey, which should come espe­cial­ly from pri­vate indi­vid­u­als, who should be encour­aged by tax advan­tages for dona­tions or invest­ments. For exam­ple, foun­da­tions could be required to invest one or two per­cent of their cap­i­tal in research for which they could receive tax ben­e­fits, Pen­ninger suggested.

In prin­ci­ple, how­ev­er, the atti­tude of local sci­en­tists should also change: they should final­ly under­stand that they must present their work more in the media and com­mu­ni­cate with the pub­lic, as has long been the case in the US or Cana­da, „Only in this way can you, as a researcher, pay atten­tion to your work and thus not only gain mon­ey, but also arouse the inter­est of the youth in sci­ence”, explained Penninger.

Pen­ninger is already inno­vat­ing on the awak­en­ing of the pas­sion for sci­ence in our youngest minds: a few years ago he found­ed the first open lab­o­ra­to­ry in Aus­tria in Vien­na. This is freely acces­si­ble to the pub­lic. Since then, 40,000 peo­ple have vis­it­ed these and oth­er open labs in Linz, Graz or Wels. „I am con­vinced that we have aroused inter­est in research with so many bright peo­ple”, he said.

The chair­man of ACADEMIA SUPERIOR Michael Strugl was pleased not only with the renewed large num­ber of vis­i­tors to the DIALOGUE, but also with the fact that „at DIALOG, the pos­si­bil­i­ties of genet­ic engi­neer­ing were not only dis­cussed against the back­ground of threat sce­nar­ios, but also every­thing was shown to be pos­i­tive would.”

Dr. Andreas Mit­ter­lehn­er, Gen­er­al Direc­tor of HYPO Oberöster­re­ich, which spon­sored the event, said: „ACADEMIA SUPERIOR and HYPO OÖ have an impor­tant com­mon inter­est: a good future devel­op­ment of Upper Aus­tria. That’s why we sup­port the activ­i­ties of ACADEMIA SUPERIOR.”