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Critical Care & Genome Editing: A Tübingen summertime story

Machines beep and flash. Screens display curves and lines.  Decisions, including life and death decisions, can happen very quickly. Anyone who has ever been in an intensive care unit knows how hectic it can be. Precision and teamwork are required to make sure that every move is perfect. This is exactly what international students learned during one of two Blended Intensive Programs at the Medical Faculty of the University of Tübingen. Under the motto "Critical Care", the students were given exciting insights into the world of intensive care. After a week of online preparation, they spent one entire week with practical workshops, hands-on-trainings and interactive discussions. The highlight of the first BIP were the courses in the so-called “Tüpass”, the Tübingen Patient Safety and Simulation Center. Here, the students were able to gain practical experience for themselves what it feels like to perform emergency ventilation or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The intercultural aspect is a huge benefit for the students but also for the lecturers from the different CIVIS universities. Matt from the University of Glasgow, sums it up well when he says: “I really enjoy the fact, that there are teachers from across Europe and the world. […] Hearing about how different countries approach the same problem.” Robert Wunderlich, MD. in the Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine at the University Hospital of Tübingen adds “The CIVIS network and these programs we are running here are very important for the students to interact with other countries, other universities…”. The students did not only work in the simulation center, but were able to visit the intensive care units in the University Hospital of Tübingen. They were confronted with real cases and gained insights into the everyday work of intensive care physicians. Theodora from the Sapienza University of Rome was thrilled “Experiencing the feelings you have inside an ICU by yourself when you have to make decisions is something that I think is really useful and something that I would have waited years to have for the first time.” Head of the Critical Care BIP was Prof. Reimer Riessen, director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit 93 at the University Hospital Tübingen.

The second BIP was about one of the most significant biotechnological developments in the first part of this century - the "Science, Ethics, and Governance of Human Genome Editing". Genome editing radically advanced since 2012 with the introduction of a new CRISPR (and other) technologies that are revolutionary in terms of precision, speed and efficacy. On a global level, human genome editing has major potential for improving human health, but it is also pushing the traditionally accepted boundaries of what is possible in biology and medicine. “And this is bringing a lot of ethical issues and concerns”, explains Dr. Oliver Feeney, head of the BIP program and member of the Ethics of Genome Editing Research Unit, Institute for Ethics and History of Medicine of the University of Tübingen, who notes at the outset ‘the two opposing ethical scenarios of the recent sickle cell breakthrough and the now infamous case of the CRISPR twins’. Prof. Greg Bognar from the University of Stockholm introduced the students to the social consequences of the new technologies, particularly on what: “kind of problems they raise for populations and politics at the collective level”. From ethics to governance, Dr. Aurélie Mahalatchimy from Aix-Marseille Université noted how this impacts on ‘law and regulation at the European Union level’.  But not only did the students get to know the ethical and legal side of the topic but experienced the biological and medical side of it. Prof. Julia Skokowa, Founding Director of the Gene and RNA Therapy Center (GRTC) at the University Hospital of Tübingen, gave the students an introduction to the structure and the paths in the translation of gene and RNA therapy fields. This interdisciplinary approach was what excited the students so much, as Heba, biochemistry student from the University of Bucharest, pointed out “It’s a great chance for me to learn more on the ethical side” while Saif from the University of Glasgow highlighted the value in different perspectives being brought together in one place, further reinforcing the interdisciplinary nature of CIVIS. The ‘Human Genome Editing’ BIP involved a wide team of lecturers with ten live zoom interactive sessions over June and July, followed by the week of in-person lectures, workshops and student presentations here in Tübingen.  

Needless to say, that besides visiting the seminars and workshops the students and also lecturers had enough time to discover the beautiful town of Tübingen with its wonderful medieval city center and going for a punting adventure on the river Neckar. Prof. Mo Al Haddad from the University of Glasgow, summarizes it pretty well when referring to Tübingen as “like a postcard” and that he would come back “in a heartbeat!”. 

The Critical Care BIP was conducted by Prof. Riessen with his Tübingen team together with colleagues Prof. Flaminia Coluzzi (Sapienza University of Rome) & Prof. Mo Al Haddad (University of Glasgow). The Science, Ethics, and Governance of Human Genome Editing was led by Dr. Oliver Feeney with his Tübingen team together with CIVIS colleagues Prof. José María Carrascosa (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), Prof. Greg Bognar (University of Stockholm), Dr. Aurélie Mahalatchimy (Aix-Marseille University), and Prof. Emilian Mihailov (University of Bucharest) as well as colleagues from University of Tübingen/University Hospital Tübingen and elsewhere in Europe, including Prof. Julia Skokowa, Prof. Ulrich Lauer, Prof. Hans-Jörg Ehni, Dr. Réka Haraszti, Dr. Uta Müller, Prof. Robert Ranisch, Dr. Heidi Howard, Katharina Trettenbach and Alonso Soto.

Until next year!

Steven Pohl, Faculty of Medicine

Aftermovie: CIVIS Summer Schools 2023 in Tübingen (BIP)

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