Biomedical Science

Successful fundraising for collaborative research projects

The success of the research at the ZMB has led to the acquisition of further funding for collaborative projects in the past two years.

The Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) “Supramolecular Chemistry on Proteins” is one extraordinarily successful acquisition. In this SFB the latest findings and techniques in supramolecular chemistry are applied to biological questions. The coordinator of the SFB is Prof. Thomas Schrader of the Faculty of Chemistry. The DFG is funding the interdisciplinary network between the Faculties of Chemistry, Biology, and Medicine, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Physiology in Dortmund with 7 million euros. The goal is to chemically synthesize large molecules which are constructed as molecular tweezers for proteins. Using these tools biologists analyze biochemical mechanisms and in doing so pave the way for medics to develop new approaches to combating disease.

Research within the Collaborative Research Centre SFB/TRR60, which was launched in 2009, deals with the interaction of chronic viruses with the immune system. On the basis of their highly successful research, Chinese and German scientists applied for a prolongation of the grant for a second  period until 2017. They were able to celebrate a great success after the assessment in October 2013:  DFG funding of TRR60 was granted for an additional three and a half years. 11 subprojects will be funded by the DFG in Essen and Bochum with a total volume of 5.5 million euros, and 7 subprojects by the national Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) in China with around 2 million euros. For Essen, further financing of the SFB means more than 5 million euros to cover personnel costs and material expenses. The UDE and the Faculty of Medicine as the lead institution have demonstrated their strong competitive position as a research location for infectious diseases in Germany and internationally.

The DFG Research Training Group GRK 1045 “Modulation of host cell functions to treat viral and bacterial infections” ran for the maximum funding period of 9 years up to the end of 2013. The central topic of the Research Training Group concerned the development of new strategies for the treatment of acute and chronic infections. The focus here is not directly on the pathogen and its proliferation but on the function of the host and the immune cells. Thanks to the successful work of the group and the expertise established in the field of infection immunology, it was possible to secure a grant for a new Research Training Group in collaboration with the Ruhr University Bochum and Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf.  The  new Research Training Group entitled “Immune response in infectious diseases – Regulation between innate and adaptive immunity”, GRK 1949, was granted by the DFG in November 2013 and addresses reactions of the immune system to infectious diseases. Within the first four-and-a-half-year funding period the DFG will provide 4.5 million euros. Out of the 14 projects, 9 are located at the UDE. The coordinator of the Research Training Group is the UDE’s Prof. Jörg Timm.

In 2011 funding of the DFG Research Training Group “Molecular Determinants of the Cellular Radiation Response and their Potential for Response modulation” (GRK 1739) was successfully secured with the help of the coordinator Prof. Verena Jendrossek from the Institute of Cell ­Biology (Cancer Research) and a team of scientists from Essen University Hospital and the ZMB for four and a half years (April 2012–October 2016). Radiation therapy is one of the most important and effective options in fighting cancer. The  collaborative project is aimed at advancing basic research in radiation biology and molecular radiation oncology  to provide a scientific basis for the development of effective strategies for ­radiation response modulation and to pave the way for translating promising concepts into clinical practice together with clinical partners in the ­future.

In 2012 the GRK 1739 was selected to nominate the annual “Scientist in Residence”. The group nominated Professor Alan Ashworth, Chief ­Executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, London, as a guest professor in recognition of his achievements in cancer research. Alan Ashworth is a visionary scientist. Among his major accomplishments has been to identify genes involved in cancer risk, especially breast cancer. His pioneering discoveries have paved the way for the development of new innovative cancer therapies over the course of the past few years. In December 2012 the GRK1739 organized a scientific symposium “From cancer defects to novel cancer ­treatment concepts” with Professor Ashworth and other leading scientists in the field of cancer research, which was held at the Zeche Zollverein in Essen.

GRK 1431 “Transcription, Chromatin Structure and DNA Repair in Development and Differentiation” addresses the question of how cells read the genetic information (DNA) stored in the nucleus and make it available for the development of an entire organism with different tissues and cell types. After Prof. Ann Ehrenhofer-Murray’s move to the Humboldt University Berlin, Prof. Hemmo Meyer, Molecular Biology I, ZMB, has taken over coordination of the Research Training Group. Following the first very successful funding period, an extension was secured for a further four and a half years up to the end of 2015. In September 2012 the Research Training Group organized the internationally very highly regarded and successful “Chromatin and Epigenetics” conference of the German Genetics ­Society.

ZMB scientists are also participating in several DFG Priority Programmes (Schwerpunktprogramme, SPP). Among them are SPP 1365 “The regulatory and functional network of ubiquitin family proteins”; SPP 1464 “Principles and evo­lu­tion of actin-nuclear complexes”; SPP 1468 “Osteoimmunology – IMMUNOBONE – A Program to unravel the mutual Interactions between the Immune System and Bone”; SPP 1267, a special DFG programme on “Sphingolipids – Signals and Disease” coordinated by Prof. E. Gulbins and now complemented by the new SPP 2123.

The research group of Prof. Erich Gulbins, Institute of Molecular Biology at Essen University Hospital, studies the biomedicine of sphingolipids. One important aspect of the group’s work is the role of sphingolipids in major depression. In cooperation with colleagues from the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg  (Prof. Johannes Kornhuber and his group) Prof. Gulbins and his team have gained new insights into the mechanism of action of certain antidepressant drugs. Up to now depression has primarily been associated with a blockage of certain signalling mechanisms in the brain, which can be improved by common antidepressants. The researchers have now found that the therapeutic effect of antidepressants is mediated by inhibition of the acid sphingomyelinase, a key enzyme of sphingolipid metabolisms. The results have recently been published in Nature Medicine and could lead to the development of better treatment options for endogenous depression.

Another new DFG Priority Programme SPP 1629 “Thyroid Trans Act” began on October 1 2012. Prof. Dagmar Führer, Director of the Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Essen University Hospital and a ZMB member, is the speaker and one of 3 coordinators of the six-year research programme for better diagnosis and treatment of thyroid ­diseases. Thyroid Trans Act  is receiving 7.6 million euros in the first funding period. The interdisciplinary programme combines basic molecular and cell biology research with applied medicine and brings together scientists and physicians from 16 German research institutes and hospitals.