Faculty of Medicine

In 2016, German Cancer Aid recognised the West German Cancer Centre (WTZ) at the University Hospital Essen once again as a top oncology centre. This was preceded by a review as part of the sixth tendering round of the support initiative by an international team of experts. Thanks to the network of 13 top oncology centres, national exemplary standards are set to be established and an improved, individually-tailored treatment promoted in accordance with the latest scientific knowledge and expertise. Key criteria for the renewed designation included a central interdisciplinary contact point for cancer patients of all tumour diseases, the treatment of patients in innovative clinical trials, the implementation of interdisciplinary tumour conferences, the development and implementation of treatment courses, a close connection to research and clinics, structured collaboration with doctors working in private practices and clinics in the area, as well as collaboration with patient representatives and self-help groups.

First institute for HIV research in Germany

To combat the global HIV pandemic, the Faculty of Medicine founded the first institute for HIV research in 2016. Headed by Prof. Hendrik Streeck, the primary objective of the new institute is to introduce a HIV vaccine into international development, as this is considered the best solution to contain the epidemic. The internationally-renowned expert for the fatal immune deficiency illness was appointed to the Faculty of Medicine in 2015. More than 30 million people are infected with HIV across the world, almost 84,000 of whom are based in Germany, and numbers are still on the rise.

New receptors for stomach bacterium heliobacter pylori discovered

Helicobacter pylori is a spiral-shaped bacterium that can colonise the human stomach – in some cases with fatal consequences. A brand new approach for the prevention or treatment of the infection with this bacteria and the resulting illnesses has been discovered by a research group of Prof. Markus Gerhard of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and PD Dr: Berhard B. Singer of the Institute of Anatomy within the Faculty of Medicine at University Hospital Essen.

Immunotherapy for head and neck tumours

Immunotherapy treatments are being used with increasing success to treat patients with advanced forms of cancer. An international team of researchers involving the West German Cancer Centre and the Faculty of Medicine were able to prove for the first time that the immuno-stimulating antibody nivolumab is more effective than traditional chemotherapy for reducing head and neck tumours. In addition, the quality of life of those affected can be maintained for a significantly longer period using immunotherapy.

New metabolic pathways identified to fight viruses

New ways to fight bodily viruses have now been discovered by an international research group involving Prof. Jörg F. Schlaak and Dr: Martin Trippler from the Clinic for Gastroenterology and Hepatology (Director: Prof. G. Gerken) of the Faculty of Medicine at University Hospital Essen. The scientists discovered a mechanism by which the hepatitis C virus (HCV) reprograms human cells by implanting itself into the body.

Alzheimer’s: State-funded research into a target molecule

A potentially groundbreaking discovery for Alzheimer’s sufferers has been given fresh impetus: the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is supporting a group of researchers at the Faculty of Medicine to introduce Kallikrein 8 as an early biomarker in the diagnosis and target molecule for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The institute’s research project for neuropathology is one of eleven university projects that will be funded in the second tendering round of the North Rhine-Westphalian patent validation programme. The property rights of the project approach have been protected by a patent application.

SEVRIT research project – 3.2 million for cell-free stem cell treatment

The benefits of receiving transplanted somatic stem cells without side effects is the aim of a new research project for the Faculty of Medicine. Under the direction of PD Dr: Bernd Giebel and Prof. Peter Horn from the Institute for Transfusion Medicine, initial research will be carried out to establish whether the same level of treatment success can be achieved if only the extracellular vesicles (EV) found outside of the cells are transplanted rather than the stem cells themselves. Additional partners include the Clinic for Bone Marrow Transplants, the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic, and the Institute of Medical Microbiology within the Faculty of Medicine at the University Hospital Essen, the Leibniz Institute for Analytical Sciences (ISAS) in Dortmund, Particle Metrix GmbH and PL BioScience GmbH.

Research training group 1739 receives further support – effects of radiation in focus

Radiotherapy is one of the fundamental pillars of cancer treatment; however, significant improvements are still needed for tumours with high rates of relapse and those in high-risk organs. The research training group 1739 at the Faculty of Medicine incorporates the molecular determinants of cellular response to radiation and its significance for modulating sensitivity to radiation. The German Research Foundation is also supporting the research training group founded in 2012 over the next four-and-a-half-year funding period. The training group’s research programme unites innovative concepts and the latest methods of radiation biology, experimental and clinic (radio)oncology, as well as biomedicine.

Trigger for multiple sclerosis discovered – blood clotting factor is crucial

This could be the crucial breakthrough we’ve been waiting for to establish what it is that triggers multiple sclerosis (MS). In association with colleagues from the University of Münster, Prof. Christoph Kleinschnitz and his team have been able to demonstrate a connection between the blood coagulation system and the emergence of MS for the very first time. Multiple sclerosis is an inflammatory disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It is most commonly found in young adults, with around 140,000 patients diagnosed in Germany alone. The disease occurs in episodes, the side-effects of which include visual impairments, paralysis or even balance disorders that could all lead to lasting disabilities.

New therapy resistance mechanism in malignant melanomas

Treatment for even advanced tumours is becoming better and better thanks to the modern therapies available today. Sooner or later, however, many patients start to develop a resistance to these therapies and the disease continues to take hold. The ability to understand these mechanisms could therefore be crucial to developing new forms of treatment. With the help of the Clinic for Dermatology, an international research team has been able to define a unique resistance mechanism that does not originate directly from the tumour cells themselves.

Double lymph node cancer – doctors research genetic mutations

It is extremely rare for a patient to suffer from two types of lymph node cancer at the same time. Nevertheless, scientific researchers in the Faculty of Medicine are working together with colleagues in Frankfurt/Main to investigate genetic mutations in these unusual diseases. Their aim is to establish step by step how a normal blood cell mutates. The German Cancer Aid is supporting the three-year project with sponsorship in the region of 370,000 euros. Lymphomas are cancerous forms of lymphocytes – a subspecies of white blood cells. Normal lymphocytes play a crucial role within the immune system. There are over 30 different types of these, differing not only in terms of their appearance, cellular origin and genetic mutations, but also in terms of their clinical behaviour.

Josep Carreras Leukaemia Foundation funds study

Provided there is a suitable donor ready and waiting, a bone marrow transplant is often the last hope for patients with malignant diseases of the blood system. Scientists from the Faculty of Medicine are therefore looking into ways to improve the available selection of suitable donors further and reduce the risk of relapse. Their research project is being funded by the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Foundation with a grant of 320,000 euros. Every year, more than 15,000 people with the disease across Europe receive fresh blood stem cells, a fifth of whom live in Germany. If the bone marrow transplant is a success, the healthy immune system recognises the diseased leukaemia cells and, in the best case scenario, destroys them permanently. Finding a suitable donor, however, is a difficult process, as both the donor and recipient must have at least four tissue characteristics (HLA-A, B, C and DR) in common.

DKTK Essen: Dangerous Merkel cell carcinoma of the skin uncovered

Merkel cell carcinomas are amongst the most dangerous types of skin cancer. The immune system, however, often doesn’t pick them up as a threat. Scientists at the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK) have now found a way to make these tumours visible to the immune system, making existing approaches to therapy significantly more effective. As part of the DKTK, the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg and seven university partner sites have resolved to convert the results of their basic research into new approaches for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the long term. The University Hospitals Essen and Düsseldorf are the only DKTK partners in North Rhine-Westphalia. The DKTK was established by the BMBF in conjunction with the federal states of Germany.

Bowel diseases: A new approach to treatment

In developed countries, around 400 out of every 100,000 people on average suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases. Scientists from the Faculty of Medicine have been evaluating a promising approach to a local therapy with minimal side effects. Drug treatments are better tolerated if they are able to act locally within the intestine, so – to this end – short, single-stranded or double-stranded ribonucleic acid molecules are used to essentially ‘switch off’ the genes causing the inflammation. Because they bind to the mRNA that they form, no more inflammation-inducing protein is produced. It is difficult to add the unstable siRNA to the bowel in practice; however, Prof. Astrid Westendorf from the Institute of Medical Microbiology and Prof. Matthias Epple from the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry formed a work group that was able to overcome this obstacle using nanoparticles.

Research training group 2098 launched

Established by the German Research Foundation as part of the Faculty of Medicine, the research training group of “Biomedicine of the acid sphingomyelinase/acid ceramidase system” was launched in 2016. Its research projects are undertaken in close cooperation with Cornell University and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. The college is represented by spokesperson Prof. Erich Gulbins and deputy spokesperson Prof. Wiebke Hansen.

Cocoa flavanols – good for the heart and circulation of patients with kidney failure

A ray of hope for dialysis patients: a plant-based component, which can also be found in dark chocolate and green tea, could help protect their vessels. Given that their generally weakened heart/circulatory system stand to be damaged further still as a result of dialysis treatment, this discovery represents a real breakthrough. The fact that food-enhancing cocoa flavanols help patients protect their blood vessels can now be proven by scientists from the Faculty of Medicine within the Clinics for Cardiology at Essen and Düsseldorf University Hospitals. Prof. Tienush Rassaf, Director of the Clinic for Cardiology at Essen University Hospital, worked together with colleagues from Düsseldorf University Hospital to establish the precise effects that cocoa flavanols have on the vascular function of critically ill patients suffering from kidney failure. With a high dose of flavanol (820 mg/d), the patients’ vascular function can be improved in both the short and long term.

Hot on the trail of immortal tumour cells – new genome mutation discovered in tumours

A neuroblastoma is a tumour whose cells are stuck in an immature state. It is particularly widespread amongst child cancer patients and is even fatal in 15 per cent of cases. Genetic investigations involving the Faculty of Medicine have now shed some light on the previously unknown mechanism that allowed these tumour cells to become immortal and thereby disrupt the body’s defences. In cooperation with colleagues from the university clinics of Cologne, Heidelberg and Berlin, UDE researchers discovered that the protein telomerase was activated by mutations in tumour genomes of patients with high-risk neuroblastomas. As a result, tumour cells were capable of dividing indefinitely.

Genetic disposition doubles risk of heart attack in men

Scientists at the Faculty of Medicine have been able to prove that a certain genetic disposition at least doubles the risk of a heart attack in men. What is more, this increased risk is irrespective of other known risk factors, such as age, sex, diabetes or body mass index. The investigation is based on the Heinz Nixdorf Recall study. Due to the exceptionally long duration of the study, researchers were able not only to look at the actual state of the health of the subjects, but also to review the outbreak and course of the disease over a period of several years before reconciling this information with the respective genetic disposition of the affected persons.

Small organ with a huge impact – DFG extends priority programme 1629

In a bid to better diagnose and treat widespread thyroid diseases, the German Research Foundation (DFG) is extending its Thyroid Trans Act priority programme (SPP 1629) at University Hospital Essen and another 13 locations in Germany by three years. The Faculty of Medicine at the UDE, Jacobs University in Bremen, and the Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin all work together to coordinate the project. The cost of this second, three-year funding period amounts to seven million euros (taking the total funding value of this priority programme up to 14 million euros).

West German Heart and Vascular Centre Essen (WHGZ) opens

Together with representatives of Essen University Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine, Federal Health Minister Hermann Gröhe and North Rhine-Westphalia’s Research Minister Svenja Schulze opened the West German Heart and Vascular Centre Essen (WHGZ) in 2015. The new centre acts as an umbrella that spans all facilities dealing with the research, diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the heart and the blood-carrying vessels. Its aim is to further promote interdisciplinary cooperation in the field of heart and vascular diseases and establish an appropriate framework for the future.