Dr. Herbert Schiller

Systems Medicine of Chronic Lung Disease: Understanding Biological Regeneration Processes through Proteomics

Toxic particles, infections, chronic inflammation reactions and cancer diseases pose a threat to our lungs. Dr. Herbert Schiller and his team are seeking to find out how lung tissue heals after injury and how cancer metastases develop in the lungs. His goal is to find new approaches for treatment of chronic lung diseases.

Dr. Herbert Schiller. Foto: Helmholtz Zentrum München
Dr. Herbert Schiller. Photo: Helmholtz Zentrum München

In many chronic diseases, defective repair mechanisms can lead to fibrosis (scarring) of tissue and thus to impairment of the function of various organs. “Fibrotic diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis, liver fibrosis, or atherosclerosis are directly or indirectly responsible for at least 40 percent of all deaths. Interestingly, similar molecular processes such as in the development of fibrosis appear to be important for the formation of cancer metastases,” said Dr. Herbert Schiller. He heads the junior research group “Systems Medicine of Chronic Lung Diseases” at the Comprehensive Pneumology Center (CPC) of Helmholtz Zentrum München and at the German Center for Lung Research (DZL).

“Elucidate processes of inflammation and wound repair”

“Since at present there are hardly any treatments that tackle the cause of fibrosis,” Schiller said, “we want to better understand the course of inflammatory and healing processes in different organs.” Together with his junior research group he explores the complex interplay of molecular systems and specialized cell types using various analytical methods. “For example, we use the latest methods of mass spectrometry to determine the exact quantity, the type of chemical modifications and the interactions of proteins in the tissue,” Schiller explained. His focus is on proteins of the extracellular matrix, which play a crucial role in the behavior of cells. He plans to quantify specific molecular parameters and to correlate these with biological processes such as tissue regeneration or cancer metastasis. He added, “At the CPC it is possible to develop our translational research approach further – both on different animal models as well as on samples from patients with chronic lung diseases – and to embed it in the overall concept of the DZL.” Schiller’s goal is to identify molecular switches that may decisively affect the course of fibrotic diseases. “We want to test our hypotheses in functional tests in the animal model and thus develop new approaches for the treatment of patients,” Schiller said.  

Great moments for proteomics

Schiller focused on cell biological aspects already as a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) in Martinsried, where he worked as a postdoc with Prof. Dr. Reinhard Fässler, one of the leading experts for extracellular matrix and cell adhesion research: “During this time I was able to study fundamental questions about the role of mechanical forces on cells and to investigate the function of integrin receptors mechanistically,” Schiller said. “There, using systems biology tools and the latest mass spectrometry methods, I was able to characterize for the first time dynamic changes in cell adhesion contacts.” At that time Schiller was especially interested in the still relatively new field of proteomics. He did research for another three years at the MPIB in the department of Prof. Dr. Matthias Mann, one of the world’s most cited scientists and a proteomics pioneer. He added, “The excellent environment at the MPIB enabled me to establish an interdisciplinary research profile.” This included projects with Prof. Dr. Oliver Eickelberg, the director of the CPC, where Herbert Schiller now leads his independent junior research group.

Further information

Schiller HB et al., Time- and compartment-resolved proteome profiling of the extracellular niche in lung injury and repair. Mol Syst Biol. 2015 Jul 14;11(7):819. doi: 10.15252/msb.20156123.

Schiller HB et al., β1- and αv-class integrins cooperate to regulate myosin II during rigidity sensing of fibronectin-based microenvironments. Nat Cell Biol. 2013 Jun;15(6):625-36. doi: 10.1038/ncb2747. Epub 2013 May 26.

Schiller HB et al., Quantitative proteomics of the integrin adhesome show a myosin II-dependent recruitment of LIM domain proteins. EMBO Rep. 2011 Mar;12(3):259-66. doi: 10.1038/embor.2011.5. Epub 2011 Feb 11.

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