Successful initiative for Erlangen medics

becker-neurath / Fotos: privat bzw. Peter Pulkowski

Prof. Dr. Christoph Becker, head of the research group, (left) and Prof. Dr. Markus F. Neurath, spokesperson for the research group. (Photos: private and Peter Pulkowski)

DFG backs new centre for research into chronic inflammatory bowel disease

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is supporting the CEDER research association project “Molecular pathogenesis and the optimised treatment of chronic inflammatory bowel disease” at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg University Hospital. To this end, over €2 million of research funding is to be made available over the next 3 years, which will, among other things, provide for the creation of 15 new positions for scientific and technical staff. Prof. Dr. Christoph Becker, professor of molecular gastroenterology at Medical Clinic 1, heads up the research association. He has been involved in research on molecular and cellular relationships and the role they play in the development of chronic inflammatory bowel disease for many years.

Chronic inflammatory bowel disease describes recurrent inflammation of the intestinal mucosa such as ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease. Over 300,000 people in Germany currently suffer from chronic inflammatory bowel disease. “Patients suffer from acute bouts of diarrhoea, cramps and stomach pain”, explains Prof. Dr. Markus Neurath; director of Medical Clinic 1 who is also the spokesperson for the new initiative. The destructive inflammatory processes in the bowel are often followed by secondary complications such as skin inflammation. Furthermore, patients with ulcerative colitis have a greater risk of developing bowel cancer. Until now, only non-specific immunosuppressants have been available for the treatment of these kinds of bowel disease. “However, these drugs suppress the entire immune system, thus increasing the patient’s susceptibility to infection. Moreover, they often have considerable side effects”, comments Neurath.

Research findings over the past years have lead to the conclusion that it is not just environmental influences and genetic factors that contribute to causing the disease, but the misdirected activation of the intestinal immune system too. “In spite of such success, the pathophysiological processes that underlie chronic inflammatory bowel disease are still largely unclear”, says Becker. Understanding these immunological processes is of vital importance for the development of future therapeutic agents.

Because the mechanisms under research also play a role in other diseases which manifest in the over-activation of the immune system, scientists and doctors from various different hospital departments are working together in the new clinical research group. “We are collaboratively looking for new means of handling chronic inflammatory bowel disease through seven sub-projects involving Medical Clinic 1, Dermatology, Surgery and Experimental Medicine. At the heart of this research, is the active and targeted manipulation of the immune system”, the research scientist explains.

The Erlangen research network’s aim is to develop optimised therapies which specifically prohibit pathogenic cellular processes whilst maintaining the patients’ immune defence against bacteria and viruses: “When we better understand what causes the illness and which molecular processes are involved, we will be able to be much more precise in terms of treatment”, explains head of the research group, Christoph Becker. For patients with chronic inflammatory bowel disease, this will mean not only alleviation of their symptoms but in the best case scenario, a greater chance of a cure.

CEDER clinical research group: “Molecular pathogenesis and the optimised treatment of chronic inflammatory bowel disease”

Further information for the media:

Prof. Dr. Christoph Becker
Leiter der Forschergruppe
Tel.: 09131/85-35886 oder 35909

Prof. Dr. Markus F. Neurath
Sprecher der Forschergruppe

uni | media service | research No. 56/2011 on 23.11.2011

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