The German Research Foundation (DFG) gave the green light for €30M in new research projects for the Institute for Experimental Cardiovascular Medicine (IEKM), University of Heart Center & other translational-minded research groups anchored at the University of Freiburg. Via a mechanism known as Collaborative Research Centers (CRCs), the University of Freiburg-based scientists pursue important translational research questions with implications for the development of new advanced treatments.
Thanks to the Bonn-based German Research Foundation, a 3.3 billion Euro, self-governing institution that promotes science and research in the Federal Republic of Germany, University of Freiburg researchers are activated, backed by 30 million euros in funded studies. Professor Dr. Norbert Südkamp, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Freiburg, was certainly pleased with his teams, thanking them for existing achievements as his center moves forward to proceed with the studies including:
· €11, a four-year study titled “The heterocellular nature of cardiac lesions: identities, interactions, implications”—also known as CRC 1425
· Extension of two collaborative research centers at the University of Freiburg, Medical Center including A) SFB 992, which focuses on the basics and therapeutic applications of epigenetic mechanisms, and B) the SFB TRR 170, which investigates the course of viral infections.
CRC 1425: Generating Knowledge of Non-Myocytes to ‘Make Better Scars’
Heart research usually focuses on muscle cells. These myocytes are the motors underlying cardiac pumping. This activity drives classic clinical read-outs such as blood pressure or electrocardiogram. Cardiomyocytes occupy two-thirds of heart muscle volume. But the significantly smaller non-myocytes—such as connective tissue and immune cells—form a majority, representing over two-thirds of the cells in the heart. After tissue lesioning, e.g., upon myocardial infarction, non-myocytes are instrumental in repair and tissue remodeling. For example, they support the heart’s structural integrity without contributing to the heart’s pump function. Their presence can also disrupt the normal electrical activity that precedes each heartbeat.
Professor Peter Kohl coordinates the CRC 1425 study and commented, “our knowledge of cellular identities of non-myocytes, their interactions, and their utility for steering tissue repair, is still in its infancy.” The CRC, therefore, aims to “make better scars!”
In the longer term, CRC 1425 aims to develop new methods for diagnosing and treating heart disease. The Black Forest-based investigators aren’t primarily targeting scar prevention or retransformation into functional muscle tissue, but rather seek novel, complementary approaches by working with nature’s repair processes to allow scars to fulfill their important mechanical repair function while minimizing side effects.
CRC 1425 Centers
By bringing together 26 scientists from the University Heart Center Freiburg, the University Hospital Freiburg, the Medical, Biological, and Technical Faculties of the University of Freiburg, the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg as well as universities of Heidelberg, Bonn, and Frankfurt, a world-class team has assembled to capitalize on the well-funded opportunity.
Ongoing Research Collaborations (CRC 992)
Two research efforts receive continued funding from DGF, including a 14 million Euro, four-year study of Medical Epigenetics, led by Prof. Dr. Roland Schüle, Scientific Director of the Department of Urology and Head of Central Clinical Research at the University Medical Center Freiburg. With a long-term goal of leveraging epigenetic research outcomes to improve diagnosis and therapy of various diseases, this research involves the investigation into the mechanism of inheritance that transcends genetic determination within DNA—with a focus on dynamic modifications that can change via external influences from diet and stress to medication.
Hence the Freiburg-based team studies epigenetic patterns in the hope that the findings can contribute to improved understanding of the development of diseases that might reveal or unfold new ways for diagnosis and treatment. This research includes other scientists and institutes involving the University and University Medical Center Freiburg and the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics.
These funds will also help continue the Integrated Research Training Group, offering doctoral students with specialized knowledge and methods in epigenetics, as well as the involvement of two technology projects supporting advancements in genomic sequencing activities.
This funded study, “Determinants and dynamics of elimination versus persistence of hepatitis virus infection,” received 11.4 million Euros (3 million allocated for the Freiburg team).
Led by Prof. Dr. Robert Thimme, Medical Director of the Department of Internal Medicine II at the University of Freiburg, Medical Center, involves five subprojects involving the study of hepatitis viruses—for example, one investigation inquires as to what determines whether infections heal in some patients but develop a chronic course in the majority of patients. The research team wants to harness this knowledge to develop new therapeutic approaches; this involves translational research. In Germany alone, over 500,000 people are chronically infected with hepatitis.
· Prof. Dr. Peter Kohl, Director, Institute for Experimental Cardiovascular Medicine, University Heart Center Freiburg
· Bad Krozingen
· Prof. Dr. Roland Schüle, Scientific Director, Clinic for Urology, University of Freiburg – Medical Center
· Prof. Dr. Robert Thimme, Medical Director, Department of Medicine II, University of Freiburg – Medical Center