Checking back: What is Prof. Dr. Ihsan Ekin Demir from the first funding round of the Clinician Scientist Professorships doing these days?

In our portrait today we are introducing you to Prof. Dr. Ihsan Ekin Demir, Ph.D. from the TUM Technical University of Munich.

Within the scope of the Else Kröner Clinician Scientist Professorship entitled “Translational Pancreatic Surgery” he conducts research on the influence of the nervous system on the formation and progression of pancreatic cancer.

PD Dr. Ihsan Ekin Demir, Ph.D. studied medicine at Heidelberg University and at the TUM Technical University of Munich, and received his doctorate in 2011 in Munich. During specialist training in visceral (i.e. abdominal) surgery he also completed the Ph.D. program at the TUM. Alongside clinical activity, parallel to this it enabled him to continue his work on basic scientific research projects regarding the role of nerves in diseases affecting the pancreas, for example cancer (pancreatic carcinoma) or pancreatitis. Since 2019 he has been active in a capacity as attending physician at the clinic and polyclinic of the “Klinikum rechts der Isar” Hospital under the auspices of the TUM and heads the Pancreas Research Laboratory at the Clinic for Surgery.

“Thanks to the Else Kröner Clinician Scientist Professorship, this is the first time I have a chronologically and organizationally structured and planable allocation of my clinical and scientific activity. This planability has distinctly increased my efficiency in both segments of my activity, and I take great pleasure in being able to set this combination forth and expand it much more efficiently and with a greater focus,” states Demir and points out initial successes within the scope of the research project: “In the first one and a half years of the professorship, high-throughput analyses involving pancreatic cancer enabled us to identify several significant key molecules that bear a relationship to an increased attack on nerves, in other words to the neural invasion in this highly aggressive type of cancer,” the physician reports. Confirmatory analyses are currently being carried out in experimental models of this type of cancer so that they can be treated in a targeted manner later on in the course of preclinical studies.

Besides his activity in research, Demir concentrates his efforts on the transfer of science into everyday work at the clinic. For instance, neural invasion is one of the strongest predictive factors in the case of pancreatic cancer. In the course of his experimental models the research scientist has found out with his team that certain molecules in pancreatic cancer accumulate when greater neural invasion exists. It is currently being studied whether these molecules can also be verified in the blood of pancreatic cancer patients and whether these patients also display a greater neural invasion in the tumor that has been surgically removed from them. The goal is a discovery of neural invasion at an earlier stage, in other words before the operation, so that the afflicted can be offered more targeted, customized therapies within the scope of new clinical studies.

The Clinician Scientist finds the clinical work and science equally fascinating. His recommendation to younger scientists is to continue intensifying the research in the respective niche: “When you investigate the facts and circumstances to an ever-greater and greater depth and understand them better as a result, the fascination and the joy you get from that grow, too,” says Demir.