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Stem cell therapy for chronic inflammatory bowel disease –

LMU Munich researcher receives Georg Heberer Award 2008

Munich, 06/27/2008

Dr. Philipe Khalil of the LMU Munich Surgical Clinic was presented with the 2008 Georg Heberer Award, endowed with EUR 25,000, at the university’s foundation commemoration. Khalil has been honored for his new approach to treating chronically inflammatory bowel diseases by using adult stem cells - cells which can differentiate into a variety of cell types of the body, albeit not into all cell types as embryonic stem cells can. Dr. Khalil’s research focuses on using adult stem cells to replace destroyed cells in the mucous membrane of the intestine and thereby re-establish its important digestive and immunological functions.

Crohn’s disease and Colitis ulcerosa are major examples of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), possibly caused by an immune reaction of the body. Patients suffer from severe damage to their intestine, in some cases even resulting in surgical removal of the afflicted parts. Treatment so far has been restricted to suppressing the body’s immune system, a method which can neither repair damage to the intestine nor restore its immunological functions.

Patients and physicians are therefore hoping for novel approaches in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases. A possible new strategy involves adult stem cells which can be extracted from the adult body, thus avoiding the controversial use of embryonic stem cells that originate from deceased embryos and therefore pose an ethical dilemma. 

Surgeons, pathologists and biochemists worked under Khalil’s lead to prove for the first time that adult stem cells can be used to treat inflammatory bowel disease. In a mouse model they applied well-characterized adult stem cells which subsequently recognized and repaired the intestinal damage. The animals showed a significant decrease in tissue destruction, as well as a reduction of the characteristic thickening and narrowing of the intestine.

Severe symptoms like diarrhea and weight loss were arrested. Stem cell therapy even drastically lowered the increased mortality often accompanying severe intestinal inflammations. The therapeutic effect of this approach could be due to the formation of new blood vessels. It is still unclear, however, whether adult stem cells will stand the test in human patients as well – and whether modifications will make them an even more useful tool.

Philipe Khalil was born in Munich in 1968. From 1991 to 1997, he studied medicine at the University of Hamburg in Germany. After a period at Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, he joined LMU Munich in 1998, where he earned his medical license in 1999 and received his teaching authorization in surgery in May 2008. Since 2001, Khalil has been working as an assistant physician in the experimental work group at the LMU Munich Surgical Hospital under the lead of Professor Matthias Siebeck.

The Georg Heberer Award
The Georg Heberer Award of the US-American Chiles Foundation, named after the surgeon Professor George Heberer (1920 - 1999), was awarded for the first time at LMU Munich in 2000. A full professor of surgery and director of the Surgical Clinic of LMU Munich University Hospital at Grosshadern until 1989, Professor Heberer was a superb physician, teacher, and researcher who gained international recognition for his universal work as a surgeon. The annual award is aimed at supporting research into current and emerging topics in the field of surgery.

The award is endowed by the Chiles Foundation, which has supported medical research, particularly in the area of cancer research, for over 50 years. The foundation maintains major institutes at the Universities of Boston and Stanford as well as the cancer research center ”Earle A. Chiles Research Institute“ at Oregon University in Portland, USA. Since 1986, an intensive scientific exchange has been maintained between the Surgical Clinic of LMU Munich University Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Oregon Health & Science University. The generously endowed George Heberer Award supports and encourages talented young German scientists in resuming their scientific projects at their home universities within the framework of international cooperation.


Professor Dr. med. Rudolf A. Hatz
Surgical Clinic of LMU Munich University Hospital at Grosshadern
Phone: ++49 (0)89 7095 - 3511
Fax: ++49 (0)89  7095 – 3508

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