Helmholtz Monthly 06/24
What follows from the European elections
Helmholtz Institute for Polymers in Energy Applications Inaugurated
Blood Markers Detect Rare Forms of Dementia and Neurological Diseases
Three questions for data scientist Chandrabali Karmakar
We need to protect ourselves much better against coming heat waves - Andreas Fink‘s point of view
Dear Readers,

In this issue, we report from Brussels. Europe has voted and the European Parliament is sorting itself out. The election results  also shaped the negotiations of the EU member states on important personnel issues, above all the positions of Commission and Council President. Independently of the European election results, they are also negotiating the composition of the new EU Commission. Particularly important for us is how research will be anchored in it. Sometimes “the EU” may seem far away, but the joint work of the Commission, Council and Parliament can be seen everywhere, especially when on vacation with terms such as “EU-wide, free roaming”. The EU also plays a central role in research, and is more than just a source of money. Germany cannot solve the major issues alone and European research also needs to exchange and collaborate on the topics covered in our newsletter, from new approaches to health research to dealing with heat waves. This is exactly what the EU can make possible with its fundamental freedoms and programs.

Enjoy your reading!

Kristine August, Brussels Office
Talk of the Month
What follows from the European elections
  Following the elections, Christian Democrats and Social Democrats continue to form the largest groups in the European Parliament, but there have been significant shifts in the other group strengths (and group compositions). This will also be reflected in the structure of the particularly research-relevant committees for Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) as well as Environment and Health (ENVI). Their size should be determined with the first session of Parliament, which will take place from 16 July – the committees will meet in their new composition from 22 July. A number of MEPs who were very active in the field of research policy did not stand for election or were not re-elected. However, the two former rapporteurs for the EU’s Horizon Europe research framework program, Christian Ehler (Germany/Christian Democrats) and Dan Nica (Romania/Social Democrats), are back in the European Parliament.
How science is contributing to Ukraine‘s recovery
  The Ukraine Recovery Conference 2024 was held in Berlin on 11th and 12th June 2024, to further mobilizing international support for Ukraine’s reconstruction. The Alliance’s action plan, developed in the run-up to the conference, brings together examples of opportunities, goals, conditions and requirements for current and future activities in the fields of science and education. A side event organized by Helmholtz Association, Fraunhofer and Leibniz addressed the question of how science can support Ukraine in the sustainable development of energy supply and agriculture (video and presentations). We spoke to Bernd Rech, Scientific Director of the Helmholtz Center Berlin, about existing cooperation projects and where help is most urgently needed.
Research for football
  Germany is in the grip of EURO 2024 fever, and science is playing its part. At Forschungszentrum Jülich, for example, researchers are developing solutions to optimize visitor guidance at major events. Computer simulations, which are already being used at this European Championship, are a key component. These scenarios help event organizers and security personnel to prepare, come up with security measures, and suggest efficient arrival routes. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have investigated how failure affects the psyche of the players and how the dreaded downward spiral can be counteracted. They concluded that it is important to manage expectations, promote positive affective states, and encourage healthy motivation among all team members (video interview with study author Prof. Darko Jekauc (in German with English subtitles).
Helmholtz Community
Frank Bradke receives the 50,000 Euro Academy Prize
  Neurobiologist Frank Bradke, a research group leader at Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (DZNE) and professor at the University of Bonn, has been awarded the 50,000 euro Academy Prize of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The award recognizes his outstanding scientific accomplishments in the field of neuronal development and regeneration. With his studies, the Bonn scientist, who focuses on fundamental mechanisms, aims to pave the way for a better treatment of spinal cord injuries. In recent years, Bradke has already been recognized with several awards for his exceptional research.
DLR at ILA Berlin 2024
  At the ILA Berlin Air Show, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR) presented pioneering technologies and concepts for climate-friendly aviation, space technologies for Earth observation and exploration, particularly in the field of quantum physics, and new approaches in the field of security research. Every two years, ILA Berlin brings the world’s aerospace industry to the German capital. For the first time, DLR presented the new research aircraft D328 UpLift, a “flying testbed” for climate-friendly aviation technologies, which flew to this year’s ILA using 100 percent synthetic fuel.
Helmholtz Institute for Polymers in Energy Applications Inaugurated
  Whether in batteries, solar cells or electrolysers, many components of the energy system of the future contain materials that are scarce and environmentally harmful. Special polymers could replace them. Scientists at the Helmholtz Institute for Polymers in Energy Applications (HIPOLE Jena) research new solutions for energy storage and conversion. The institute has now been opened. It was founded by the Helmholtz Center Berlin for Materials and Energy (HZB) in cooperation with the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. HIPOLE Jena was able to move into a modern laboratory building on the Campus of the University of Jena shortly after its founding. The laboratory rooms were equipped in the first half of 2024, and concrete research in the new labs began in early summer 2024.
Blood Markers Detect Rare Forms of Dementia and Neurological Diseases
Scientists at Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (DZNE) show that the most common forms of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) as well as the neurological diseases amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) can be recognized by blood testing. Their procedure is not yet ready for routine medical use, but in the long term it could facilitate disease diagnosis and advance the development of new therapies already now.

FTD, ALS and PSP form a spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases with overlapping symptoms characterized by dementia, behavioral symptoms, paralysis and muscle wasting, movement impairment and other serious impairments. In Germany, it is estimated that up to 60,000 people are affected by one of these diseases. Although they are relatively rare, their consequences for health are nevertheless severe. “As yet, there is no cure for any of these diseases, and, with current methods it is not possible to reach a conclusive diagnosis of the molecular pathology of these diseases during a patient’s lifetime, since brain tissue must be examined,” explains Anja Schneider, a research group leader at DZNE and Director of the Department of Old Age Psychiatry and Cognitive Disorders at University Hospital Bonn (UKB).

“However, a diagnosis of the underlying pathology is required for the development of therapies and for stratifying patients according to their disease. Only such stratification allows targeted and therefore potentially effective disease-modifying treatments to be tested,” continues Schneider, who is also affiliated with the University of Bonn. “We now show that PSP, behavioral variant of FTD and the vast majority of ALS cases with the exception of a particular mutation can be recognized by blood testing and this also applies to their underlying pathology. Our study is the first to find pathology specific biomarkers. Initially, application is likely to be in research and therapy development. But in the long term, I consider it realistic that these biomarkers will also be used for diagnosis in medical routine. However, further studies are required for this. In fact, it would be particularly important to determine how these biomarkers develop longitudinally, that is, over the course of a disease, and how early they rise in the disease course.”

The new blood test, which is based on the measurement of so-called tau and TDP-43 proteins, could provide decisive evidence for diagnosis. There is a particularly strong need for the “behavioral variant of FTD” which was investigated here. This is because the symptoms of this most common type of FTD can be due to two different pathologies – i.e. abnormal processes – in the brain, which can generally only be differentiated by analyzing tissue after death. Only in those few cases where the disease is genetic can DNA analysis provide certainty during a patient’s lifetime. The blood test now enables a precise diagnosis to be made during a patient’s lifetime, even if there is no mutation. This, in turn, is a prerequisite for testing new therapies against these various FTD pathologies in clinical trials.

To the original publication

To the DZNE press release

(Picture: DZNE / Frommann)


Climate Change: Rising Temperatures May Impact Groundwater Quality
As the world’s largest unfrozen freshwater resource, groundwater is crucial for life on Earth. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have investigated how global warming is affecting groundwater temperatures and what that means for humanity and the environment. Their study indicates that by 2100, more than 75 million people are likely to be living in regions where the groundwater temperature exceeds the highest threshold set for drinking water by any country. Read more

The dark side of transmission X-ray microscopy
X-ray microscopes are essential for examining components and materials because they can be used to detect changes and details in the material. Until now, however, it has been difficult to detect small cracks or tiny inclusions in the images. By developing a new method, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon are now able to visualize such changes in the nanometer regime. In particular, materials research and quality assurance will profit from this development. Read more

One of 46,000

Chandrabali Karmakar is a data scientist at the Remote Sensing Technology Institute of the German Aerospace Center in Oberpfaffenhofen. She researches in the field of explainable artificial intelligence with satellite images. Her research interests include application of AI in agriculture and human-AI interaction. Picture: DLR

What is the most exciting thing about your job?

The most exciting thing about my project is making AI learn from farmers and vice-versa. The AI model that sees over the health of crops from satellite images, also asks a feedback from the farmers. This is the very essence of human-in-the-loop AI, translated to Farmer-in-the-loop AI in these specific use-cases. This approach not only creates more digital literacy among farmers but also bridges the gap between technology and rural population. 

If money and time were no object, what would your next project be?

If money and time were no object, I would like to expand my business area to address other countries. Presently, I am only working for farmers in India and Germany. Given more resources, I would like to address agricultural issues in other countries, connect with more farmers and build a stronger network and a more robust technology. An AI model needs diverse data. Connecting to farmers worldwide would give the possibility to achieve a general AI model that can help farmers all over the world.

Who would you like to have dinner with and what would you talk about?

I would like to have a dinner with Dr. Vandana Shiva, a renowned researcher and sustainability activist. I would like to talk about conflict between climate policies and economy of farmers, and how technology can come to a rescue. Issues like carbon emission and soil health would be in discussion.

Point of View
We need to protect ourselves much better against coming heat waves
Meteorologist Andreas Fink of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) warns of unprecedented heat waves and their consequences for health, and he explains how Germany should prepare for them.

Heat waves are becoming more frequent in Germany and many other regions of the world and their intensity and duration are also increasing. Climate scientists are certain that we will experience more extremes in Germany in the future, far exceeding the previous heatwaves of the record-breaking summers of 2003, 2018 and 2022. Compared to other extreme weather events, such as floods, heat waves put many more people at risk. In Germany, several thousand people died in each of the last two heatwave summers.

Older people are particularly vulnerable, but younger people who have to work outdoors during the hot hours of the day, or who are simply active in their leisure time, also face health risks. Early warning, prevention and education are effective ways to avoid these consequences. On the one hand, early warning is about improving meteorological weather forecasts. It is important that they become more accurate and indicate heat waves much earlier than they do now. It is also important to better predict the consequences and impacts of each heat wave. This information also needs to reach stakeholders faster so they can take the necessary action: Health, labor, and disaster prevention workers. This is where we can make much greater use of artificial intelligence. In addition, there is still a great need for research into the effects of climate change.  We still know too little about the likelihood, magnitude, and consequences of possible and previously unimagined future heat waves.

The good news is that many cities are already working on heat protection plans. Such plans include, for example, opening public facilities with air conditioning as “heat shelters” and preparing hospitals. The city of Karlsruhe is also developing an app that shows cool places to go to on hot days. In the long term, we need more green roofs, more greenery in the city in general, and we should be careful not to block fresh air corridors. As a general rule, no one should work outside in the heat, or at least work should be reduced. Workers and employers should reach an agreement so that work schedules can be adjusted in response to official heat warnings. More needs to be done in terms of education. Following the American example of Hurricane Awareness Day, a Heat Wave Day could be proclaimed here in late spring. Neighborhoods could also be sensitized through social and traditional media to ensure that older single people and other vulnerable residents drink enough water during a heat wave.

In any case, the coming heat waves are one of the biggest challenges of climate change in Germany. We can already expect maximum temperatures of well over 40 degrees Celsius on several days in the summer. Time is running out for prevention, and we must act now.

(Photo: Magali Hauser, KIT)

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Published by: Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, Anna-Louisa-Karsch-Str.2, 10178 Berlin

Editors: Sebastian Grote, Franziska Roeder, Martin Trinkaus
Questions to the editors should be sent to monthly@helmholtz.de

Photo credit: Phil Dera (Editorial)

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