University of Freiburg receives 30 million euros for excellent research

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved a new proposal for a collaborative research center (CRC) under the leadership of the Institute for Experimental Cardiovascular Medicine (IEKM) at the University Heart Centre Freiburg · Bad Krozingen.

The CRC 1425 "The heterocellular nature of cardiac lesions: Identities, interactions, implications" will be funded by the DFG with 11 million euros for four years, starting on 1st July 2020. The DFG also approved the extension of two collaborative research centers at the University of Freiburg - Medical Center.

These are the SFB 992, which focuses on the basics and therapeutic applications of epigenetic mechanisms, and the SFB TRR 179, which is investigating the course of viral infections. In total, the University of Freiburg - Medical Center will receive funds totaling approximately 30 million euros.

I would like to both congratulate our scientists on this success and thank them for their research achievements and commitment, without which this would not have been possible."

Dr. Norbert Südkamp, Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Freiburg

New CRC investigates the heart

Traditionally, heart research has focussed on muscle cells. These myocytes are the motors underlying cardiac pumping. Their activity drives classic clinical read-outs such as blood pressure or electrocardiogram. Cardiomyocytes occupy about two-thirds of heart muscle volume.

But: the significantly smaller non-myocytes - such as connective tissue and immune cells - form a majority, accounting for more than two-thirds of the cells in the heart. After tissue lesioning, e.g. upon myocardial infarction, non-myocytes play a key role in repair and tissue remodeling.

They support the structural integrity of the heart - without, however, contributing to the pump function of the heart. Their presence can also disrupt the normal electrical activity that precedes each heartbeat.

According to Prof Peter Kohl, coordinator of CRC 1425, "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!"

Working with nature's own repair processes

In the long term, CRC 1425 aims to develop new methods for diagnosis and therapy of heart disease. In doing so, researchers are not primarily targeting scar prevention or retransformation into functional muscle tissue, but they are rather pursuing a new and complementary approach: working with nature's own repair processes to allow scars to fulfill their important mechanical repair function with minimal side effects.

The CRC 1425 brings together 26 scientists from the University Heart Centre Freiburg? Bad Krozingen, 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 from the universities of Heidelberg, Bonn, and Frankfurt.

Extension of two successful collaborations

CRC 992 "Medical Epigenetics - From basic mechanisms to clinical applications", funding of approximately 14 million euros for four years

Epigenetics is a research field that investigates the mechanisms of inheritance that go beyond the genetic determination within DNA. These mechanisms are dynamic modifications, which can change through external influences, such as diet, stress, or medication and, leave epigenetic alterations that have the potential to be inherited.

The analysis and interpretation of these epigenetic patterns can contribute to a better understanding of the development of diseases and might reveal new ways for diagnosis and treatment.

The speaker of the CRC 992 is Prof. Dr. Roland Schüle, Scientific Director of the Department of Urology and Head of Central Clinical Research at the University Medical Center Freiburg.

Other scientists from different institutes of the University and University Medical Center Freiburg and the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics are also participating in the CRC.

The CRC 992 will continue the Integrated Research Training Group that will provide doctoral students with specialist knowledge and methods in epigenetics.

The research consortium is also supported by two technology projects that enable the analysis of epigenetic patterns by sequencing the genome and, identify active substances against epigenetic proteins, which can serve as starting points for the development of new drugs.

The long-term goals of the CRC 992 are the implementation of epigenetic research results to improve the diagnosis and therapy of various diseases.

CRC/TRR 179 "Determinants and dynamics of elimination versus persistence of hepatitis virus infection", funding: approximately 11.4 million Euros, about 3 million Euros for Freiburg

A team led by Prof. Dr. Robert Thimme, Medical Director of the Department of Internal Medicine II at the University of Freiburg - Medical Center, is involved in the SFB/TRR 179 with five subprojects.

Using the different hepatitis viruses as examples, the project is investigating the question as to what determines whether infections heal in some patients, but develop a chronic course in the majority of patients.

The scientists also want to find out how this knowledge can be used for new therapeutic approaches - which is of great clinical importance in view of the fact that more than 500,000 people in Germany are chronically infected with hepatitis.

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