2012 İhsan Doğramacı Memorial Conference Highlights the Translation of Basic Research to Medical Advancement

Photographs by Aydın Ramazanoğlu

On November 12, Professors Peter Walter and Gökhan Hotamışlıgil delivered lectures at the İhsan Doğramacı Memorial Conference entitled "The Endoplasmic Reticulum: Homeostasis and Disease." The lectures were preceded by introductory remarks from the dean of science, Prof. Tayfun Özçelik, who commented on Prof. İhsan Doğramacı's accomplishments at home and abroad, from the founding of Hacettepe and Bilkent Universities to his role in the founding of the World Health Organization. This was followed by a short performance by the Bilkent University Faculty of Music Brass Ensemble, after which Assist. Prof. Ebru Erbay, representing the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics (which organized the event), introduced the conference speakers.

Dr. Walter began his talk by underlining the importance of basic science and presented his landmark research, which uncovered the unfolded protein response that governs homeostasis of a central intracellular organelle, the endoplasmic reticulum. He and his group members identified a dual-activity protein (inositol-requiring enzyme) that communicates distress in the endoplasmic reticulum to the nucleus. Dr. Walter made the initial discovery of these molecules in yeast, a model organism; but later this protein and the signal pathway it belongs to were found to also exist in a variety of other organisms, including humans.

Dr. Hotamışlıgil's presentation opened with a description of his discovery of the low-grade, chronic inflammatory response triggered by obesity, which is linked to many pathological processes, including diabetes, insulin resistance and atherosclerosis. Dr. Hotamışlıgil then discussed his recent findings showing the connection between nutrient excess, endoplasmic reticulum stress and inflammation as common pathogenic mechanisms underlying obesity and associated diseases. Together, the speakers' descriptions of their discoveries illustrated the importance of basic research and the manner in which its translation serves to advance medicine.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Ali Doğramacı presented Dr. Walter and Dr. Hotamışlıgil each with a silver plate as a symbol of the Bilkent community's gratitude for accepting the invitation to speak at this important event. The lecture was followed by a reception where Bilkent students and faculty were able to ask questions and exchange ideas with the distinguished guests.