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Research Field Health

Health Research in the Helmholtz Association aims to unravel the complex causes of major chronic diseases and develop novel strategies for prevention, early diagnostics and effective therapies for the benefit of patients.

Goals

ZoomHelmholtz Institutes for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS) Scientists in the laboratory . Image: HIPS/HZI
Helmholtz Institutes for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS) Scientists in the laboratory . Image: HIPS/HZI

Their aim is to help develop efficient methods for the early detection, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of these major common diseases. The research on complex and often chronic illnesses requires interdisciplinary approaches, which the Helmholtz centres implement in cooperation with partners from medical schools, universities, other research organisations and industry. The Helmholtz centres active in the field of health research perform outstanding basic research and apply their expertise to the development of new methods for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. They are making this expertise available to the German Centres of Health Research, which were founded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in order to improve the translation of basic research findings into clinical applications.

Outlook

The long-term goal of health research at the Helmholtz Association is to improve medical care and quality of life for the population into old age. Individually tailored options for prevention and treatment will play a vital role in the future, but it will also be important to better understand the role of the metabolic syndrome as a risk factor for several of the major common diseases. A key contribution will be made by the Helmholtz translational centres and the German Centres of Health Research – together with the National Cohort as a resource for epidemiology and prevention research.

Research Programmes


Cancer Research

The goal of the Cancer Research Programme is to make significant improvements in the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

More details about Research Programme Cancer Research


Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease

The programme’s aim is to examine the causes of nervous system disorders and create more efficient methods for their prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

More details about Research Programme Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease


Infection Research

This programme concentrates on the molecular mechanisms responsible for the development and course of infectious diseases.

More details about Research Programme Infection Research


Disorders of the Nervous System

Being able to grow old is not just a blessing. Unfortunately, older people are more likely to suffer from neurological and psychiatric illnesses.

More details about Research Programme Disorders of the Nervous System


Genetic and Environmental Influences on Common Diseases

Diabetes, pulmonary illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, disorders of the nervous system and cancer result from the complex interplay between genetics, environmental factors and personal lifestyles.

More details about Research Programme Environmental Health

The programmes in the funding period 2014-2018

Research activities at the Helmholtz Health Centers are organized in three closely interrelated areas:

- Excellent basic research
- Analysis of complex biological systems
- modeling of disease processes

Major activities in these three research lines are pursued at five Helmholtz Centers: the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, the Helmholtz Center Munich – the German Research Center for Environmental Health (HMGU), the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, and the nationwide German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE). Other Centers that provide important contributions to specific programs are the Research Center Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), and the Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research (GSI).

Our disease-oriented programs and a joint strategy for the third period of program-oriented funding (2014-2018) put the Research Field Health within the Helmholtz Association in an excellent position to make important contributions to the challenging area of biomedical research.

Research is currently being conducted in five programmes.

Research Programmes


Cancer Research

The goal of the Cancer Research Programme is to make significant improvements in the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

More details about Research Programme Cancer Research


Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease

The programme’s aim is to examine the causes of nervous system disorders and create more efficient methods for their prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

More details about Research Programme Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease


Infection Research

This programme concentrates on the molecular mechanisms responsible for the development and course of infectious diseases.

More details about Research Programme Infection Research


Disorders of the Nervous System

Being able to grow old is not just a blessing. Unfortunately, older people are more likely to suffer from neurological and psychiatric illnesses.

More details about Research Programme Disorders of the Nervous System


Genetic and Environmental Influences on Common Diseases

Diabetes, pulmonary illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, disorders of the nervous system and cancer result from the complex interplay between genetics, environmental factors and personal lifestyles.

More details about Research Programme Environmental Health

Strategic Cross-Programme Activities

To be able to respond as quickly as possible to new developments, a flexible system of cross-cutting activities was created to contribute to the further development of important resources and technologies. Here, the fields of epidemiology, translational research, and personalized medicine are given particular significance as regards research policy and strategy.

Epidemiological research
Epidemiological research aims at identifying both the genetic and the environmental risk factors so as to prevent diseases or to detect and treat these at an early stage. In order to create a unique resource for epidemiological research, the Helmholtz Health Research has initiated the development of a major prospective national Cohort Study in Germany. The following Centres participated in the initiative alongside university partners: the German Cancer Research Centre, the Helmholtz Centre Munich, the Max Delbrück Center Berlin-Buch as well as the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research.

Translational Research
The Helmholtz Health Centres adopt a leading role in the field of translational research both nationally and internationally. With the development of local translation centres in cooperation with university hospitals, infrastructure platforms have been created, which will decidedly accelerate the transfer of relevant findings from basic research into clinical applications. The formation of strategic alliances with partners from the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology and medical technology also considerably reinforces the expertise in this field. The long-term collaboration of Helmholtz Health Centres with partners from university medicine and other research institutions will experience a new dimension with the impending establishment of German Centres of Health Research.

Personalized Medicine
The Helmholtz Cross-Program Initiative Personalized Medicine iMed will provide a common platform for high-throughput and information technologies, thereby strengthening the individual medical research disciplines in each center. Joint activities in cancer, metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, infectious and diseases of the nervous system will focus on:

- molecular diagnostics, risk stratification and primary prevention
- individualized therapy
- secondary prevention and outcomes

Large population studies will provide insights into genetic and environmental risk factors for these widespread diseases. By combining the complementary research strengths and technological prowess of participating Helmholtz centers and local partners from university medicine, iMed will generate considerable added value for each research program. iMed will allow the development of risk-adjusted programs for prevention and early diagnosis, thereby enabling targeted interventions even prior to the manifestation of clinical disease.

Insights into Research Field Health

Here, we present projects currently being carried out by scientists at the Helmholtz Centres.

Tricking the Bran - Hormonal Therapeutic Approaches to Diabtes

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3D reconstruction of nerve and glial cells in the hypothalamus – the brain region that regulates blood sugar levels in combination with messenger
substances. Image: Chun-Xia Yi/Helmholtz Zentrum München

Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health

“We can influence metabolism using hormones that have a direct impact on the digestive organs – and also on the brain,” says Matthias Tschöp, scientific director of the Helmholtz Diabetes Center at the Helmholtz Zentrum München. Via a complex network of signalling molecules, the stomach, intestine and pancreas communicate directly with the brain – and vice versa. The disruption of this interaction in patients suffering from diabetes and obesity is now being targeted by novel therapeutic approaches. Surgical treatments of obesity, such as gastric bypass, are able to improve blood sugar levels in patients even before they lose weight. The Munich-based scientists achieved the same effect by placing a tube or sleeve in part of the small intestine to inhibit its function instead of performing a complex operation. The advantage of this method is that it is much less invasive and can be reversed.

These interventions in the gastrointestinal tract alter the body’s hormonal control system. Tschöp and his team found that sensitivity to the intestinal hormone GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide 1) played a key role in the effectiveness of the surgical procedure. In the future, a corresponding hormone test could make it possible to individually tailor surgical methods. The positive effect that the operations had on fat and sugar metabolism can be explained by the altered concentrations and effects of metabolic hormones such as the insulin-stimulating GLP-1 and GIP (gastric inhibitory peptide). This suggests that physicians could administer such hormones to patients in order to mimic these positive effects – or, as Tschöp puts it, “to trick the brain into believing that an operation has taken place”. GLP-1 based drugs have long been used to treat diabetes, but Tschöp and his team wanted to maximise their impact. They have managed to create a multifunctional combination of hormones that brings together the positive properties of several hormones in a single molecule. With it they have been able to improve blood sugar levels and reduce body weight in animals. “We know that the messenger substances have complex functions,” says Tschöp. “Our goal is to crack their code so that we can develop new therapies for common diseases such as diabetes and obesity.”


Pionts of Attack Identified for Treatment of Breast Cancer

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Basal breast cancer in a 3D or ganoid culture (left) and af ter treatment with an inhibitor of the Met receptor (right). Image: G. Valenti, J. Holland/MDC

Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. For patients with hormone-negative basal breast cancer, the prognosis is bleak. Because this cancer is not controlled by hormones, anti-hormone therapy is ineffective. Together with their colleagues, Jane Holland and Walter Birchmeier have developed a model for this type of breast cancer based on two mutated and activated signalling pathways (ß-catenin/Wnt and HGF/Met). Their research has revealed new points of attack for therapy. Combinatory therapies that target signalling molecules and receptors have been particularly successful in mice and could prove useful in human patients.  


Compact Proton Therapy for Cancer

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Design of a small proton therapy facility. Image: Umar Masood

Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR)

In a conceptual design study, researchers from the HZDR and OncoRay have reduced the size of a proton therapy facility by 50 per cent. To do so they replaced the facility’s ring accelerator with a laser accelerator that requires only a few millimetres to accelerate particles. In order to guide the proton beam from the accelerator to the patient, they developed a compact guidance system that uses pulsed magnets and takes up less space than normally required for this component. The design would significantly reduce costs. Proton therapy is a very precise way of fighting cancer.


Structure of Cholesterol Transporter Decoded

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The cholesterol transporter TSPO serves as a docking site for important diagnostic markers and various medications such as Valium. Image: L. Jaremko, M. Jaremko, M. Zweckstetter/DZNE, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and UMG

German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)

Together with Max Planck researchers, scientists at the DZNE have solved the atomic structure of the molecular transporter TSPO. This transporter introduces cholesterol into the cell’s power plants, the mitochondria, and also serves as a docking site for diagnostic markers and various medications such as Valium. The detailed knowledge of its three-dimensional shape is opening up new possibilities for diagnosis and treatment.


Combating Hospital Bacteria while Avoiding the Development of Resitance

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Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Image: M. Rohde/HZI

Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)

Resistance against antibiotics in hospital bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common problem. Using targeted drug design, scientists at the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (a branch of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research) have developed a substance to fight Pseudomonas infections while also avoiding the formation of resistance. The substance works by disrupting bacterial communication and keeping bacteria from producing toxins but without interfering with any of their vital processes.   


Finding and Treating Tumours with Protons

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The existing treatment with carbon ions, which was developed at GSI, could be improved by proton theranostics. Image: Achim Zschau/GSI

GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research

Can a tumour be diagnosed and treated at the same time? This idea could soon become a reality. In a collaborative experiment conducted by the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, the Technical University of Darmstadt and the Los Alamos National Laboratoryin the United States, researchers have shown that the beams of fast protons could do the trick. Scientists call this combination of therapy and diagnostics “theranostics”.


Initial Success with Vaccines against Brain Tumours

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The mutated tumour cells of a glioma are stained brown. The altered protein is found in the cytoplasm and the cell extensions. Cell nuclei are blue. Image: DKFZ

German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)

Tumour vaccines can help the body in its fight against cancer. Due to gene mutations in tumour cells, they often differ from healthy cells. These mutations result in altered proteins that immune cells can recognise. Scientists led by Michael Platten from the DKFZ and Heidelberg University Hospital have developed a vaccine that triggers an immune response to a mutated protein in brain tumours and thus stops tumour growth in mice. The safety of the vaccine will now be examined in a clinical trial.

Contact

Prof. Dr. Günther Wess

Research field coordinator Health

Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health

Ingolstädter Landstraße 1
85764 Neuherberg

Phone: +49 89 3187-4409
inaumann (at) helmholtz-muenchen.de
http://www.helmholtz-muenchen....


Dr. Phillip Hahn

Research Field Health

Helmholtz Association

Phone: +49 30 206329-15
phillip.hahn (at) helmholtz.de


02.08.2015