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Consumer protection reinforced: BfR extends its research competence

11/2006, 18.04.2006

Four departments with new heads

During the last few months the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has appointed new heads for its four departments Biological Safety, Food Safety, Safety of Consumer Products and Risk Communication. Professor Dr. Bernd Appel joined the BfR in June 2005 as head of the department Biological Safety. The other three department head positions were vacant following the restructuring and establishment of BfR. PD Dr. Dr. Alfonso Lampen has been in charge of the department Food Safety since August 2005. In February 2006, PD Dr. Dr. Andreas Luch assumed responsibility for the new department related to Safety of Consumer Products. The BfR department Risk Communication has been the responsibility of PD Dr. Gaby-Fleur Böl since April 2006. "With the help of these new senior scientists, the BfR has now extended its research and communication skills in four important, consumer-relevant areas of work", commented BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel.

Professor Dr. Bernd Appel has been involved in the field of biological safety for many years. After his university career, including a C3 professorship in biotechnology and visits abroad in the USA, the biologist and biochemist joined the Federal Health Office (BGA) in 1992. There, too, he focussed on "biological material". The risk assessment of genetic engineering work, technical handling of organisms and plants, research on horizontal gene transfer and changing pathogens or the development of diagnostic detection methods for pathogenic micro-organisms are just a few examples.

"I have always been fascinated by the genetic changes in micro-organisms", admitted Appel. It was for this very reason that he took over the project group Biological Safety in the Robert Koch Institute eight years ago. Since June 2005 he has been in charge of the department of the same name within BfR. Besides addressing current bird flu issues, the department also undertakes, amongst other things, the assessment of zoonosis pathogens in foods, the identification of dietary pathogenic mico-organisms, research into novel pathogens and the investigation of resistances.

PD Dr. Dr. Alfonso Lampen has been the head of the department Food Safety since August 2005. He has a PhD in biology and veterinary science. After completing his university studies in Göttingen, Hannover and the USA as well as the post-doctoral qualification he made his habilitation at the Department of Food Toxicology and Chemical Analysis at University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover.

Lampen has introduced new projects and methods into the department. "In addition to the established chemical-analytical orientation, we would like to develop methods that can help to find answers to the increasingly important questions of cellular and molecular food safety." Projects involving the molecular analysis of substance effects like nutriogenomics and proteomics are the first step.  Furthermore, new cell culture methods are to be developed and established to replace animal experiments in food studies.

In February 2006, PD Dr. Dr. Andreas Luch assumed responsibility as head of the new department on Safety of Consumer Products. The professional focus of the chemist, biologist and qualified doctor of medicine is molecular toxicology. After obtaining his PhD and MD degrees, and post-doctoral qualification in Mainz and Munich, he undertook research internships at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Luch then pursued in the investigation of the molecular causes of cancer by focussing on the metabolism of carcinogenic compounds, their binding to DNA and genotoxicity.

The department for Product Safety of BfR is involved in assessing the health risks possibly associated with the use of commodities, cosmetics and many other "consumer-related products". This area encompasses almost everything that people come into contact with in the course of their daily lives. "The public is becoming increasingly aware of safety issues surrounding items of daily use. We wish to provide a sound scientific basis by means of the anticipatory identification and assessment of health risks", explained Luch.

PD Dr. Gaby-Fleur Böl has been in charge of the BfR department Risk Communication since 1 April. The biochemist worked in the field of immunology at the Medical School in Hannover. After her work on specific protein-protein interactions at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Böl moved in 1997 to the German Institute of Human Nutrition (DIFE) in Potsdam-Rehbrücke. There, she focussed on the regulation of cellular processes by dietary components and the links between nutrition and cancer. At Potsdam University she did a post-doctoral thesis in biochemistry.

"Scientific results should be transparent for both consumers and multipliers so that they can take informed decisions on the basis of impartial information", said Böl. In this context the department Risk Communication was a central interface in order to carry over delicate issues for consumers into BfR’s research activities. Böl is in favour of establishing a pro-active dialogue with all relevant target groups and further extending the international relationships of BfR.

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