Iwan Burgener, new Professor of Small Animal Internal Medicine at Vetmeduni Vienna
11.08.2016: Iwan Burgener from Switzerland has been newly appointed Professor to the Clinical Unit of Small Animal Internal Medicine from 1 August 2016. Having had positions in Leipzig, Germany, and Utrecht, Netherlands, Vienna is the third chair for the small animal internist. Burgener’s special focus in his clinical work is on the canine metabolism. His research is dedicated to gastro-intestinal and hepatic diseases. Burgener is a Diplomate of the American as well as the European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
The new professor of Small Animal Internal Medicine at Vetmeduni Vienna, Iwan Burgener, makes himself conspicuous by efficiently combining the requirements of clinical work, teaching and research. The linking of these three fields increases the understanding of diseases, leading to better diagnoses and treatment. Burgener, who comes from the Swiss canton of Valais, started his studies in his home country at the University of Bern. Having completed his doctoral studies with a thesis in neuroimmunology, he did a rotating internship, followed by a four-year international residency at the University of Bern and the Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, USA, to become a veterinary specialist of small animal internal medicine. Being a Diplomate of the American and European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Burgener has since then held two international certificates as a veterinary specialist.
Later, Burgener was a senior veterinarian at the Small Animal Clinic of the University of Bern. At the same time, he worked on his PhD in the gastroenterology research group at the Vetsuisse Faculty of Bern. In 2011, he finished his habilitation with a thesis on chronic enteropathies in dogs and cats. In the same year, he was appointed Professor in Leipzig, Germany, where he became the head of the newly founded Unit of Small Animal Internal Medicine. In 2014, Burgener got the chance to become a Professor at the prestigious University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. Like in Leipzig, he was deemed to be the best candidate and appointed Professor and head of the Unit of Small Animal Internal Medicine.
Specific biomarkers to combat hepatic diseases
An important research project stems from Burgener’s time in Utrecht. He and his team identified biomarkers, specific biological parameters that allow for a sensitive detection of damaged liver cells in dogs. “We found so-called microRNAs in serum samples: highly conserved, short RNA sequences which are relevant for the regulation of gens,” explained Burgener. “They are a specific indicator for a hepatic disease. Thus, they also help to distinguish liver diseases.” Only a few of these markers are sufficient to detect an existing or beginning damage. As a result, targeted therapies could be initiated quicker and more efficiently in the future.
From clinician to clinical researcher
Already during his doctoral studies, Burgener worked in clinical research. He investigated Steroid Responsive Meningitis-Arteriitis, a rather frequent inflammation of the meninges in dogs. During his PhD studies, he extended his knowledge in, among other fields, immunology, cell biology and molecular biology. He investigated the role of the so-called toll-like receptors in canine inflammatory bowel disease. “The receptors recognise molecular patterns of pathogens and are part of the innate immune system,” explained Burgener.
For the Swiss researcher it was important to learn about the scientific background of his clinical work and understand it. Thus, for example, he worked with antibodies, protein detection and cell cultures.
New cell culture method as a task in Vienna
During his time as a Professor at the University of Utrecht, Burgener used his knowledge to further develop a canine cell culture system. “It was not before Utrecht that we could make some steps forward and use biopsies for the cell culture. The preparatory work had already been done in Bern where we worked with healthy cell lines in dogs,” said Burgener. He wants to establish and further develop the improved cell culture system in Vienna. For him, the added value lies in the much more realistic imaging of processes in canine bodies.
From Bern via Leipzig and Utrecht to Vienna
Vetmeduni Vienna is Burgener’s third position as a Professor. Not only the chance of new challenges or the Austrian descent of his wife where arguments in favour of Vienna. Burgener has known Eberhard Ludewig, the newly appointed Professor of Diagnostic Imaging at Vetmeduni Vienna, already from this time in Leipzig. Ludewig strongly recommended to apply for the position in Vienna and pointed out the ideal environment. Burgener has furthermore known Paula Larenza-Mendes, also a newly appointed Professor of the Clinical Unit of Anaesthesiology and perioperative Intensive-Care Medicine at Vetmeduni Vienna, and his colleague Nicole Luckschander-Zeller from their studies in Bern. “It’s good to have familiar faces or even former colleagues around you from the very beginning. This makes the start in a new environment easier,” said Burgener.