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DFG funds centre for research into inflammatory bowel disease at FAU

Prof. Dr. Christopher Becker, head of the CEDER research centre for inflammatory bowel disease at FAU (Image: private)

Clinical research unit receives over 4.8 million euros after evaluation

After an evaluation by an international committee of experts, the German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved further funding for the CEDER research centre for inflammatory bowel disease at FAU. The centre will receive over 4.8 million euros over the next three years. ‘This is twice the previous level of funding,’ says Prof. Dr. Christoph Becker, head of the research centre, who is clearly delighted. The additional funding is to take into account that the centre has expanded considerably since the first funding period and has had some important successes in its research into inflammatory bowel disease. The researchers’ most recent breakthrough is the discovery of a new diagnostic procedure which can predict patients’ response to therapy more easily, sparing them the need to undergo unnecessary and stressful treatment.

Patients with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, suffer from sever diarrhoea, cramps, stomach pains – and a restricted quality of life. There are currently more than 300,000 people in Germany who are affected by flare-ups of this inflammation of the intestinal mucosa. Despite the use of strong medication, inflammatory bowel disease is often difficult to treat. This is due to the molecular and cellular mechanisms behind the disease which are not yet sufficiently understood by medical experts.

Prof. Dr. Markus Neurath, Chair of Internal Medicine I at FAU and head of the Department of Medicine 1 (gastroenterology, pneumology and endocrinology) at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen (Image: private)

Prof. Dr. Markus Neurath, Chair of Internal Medicine I at FAU and head of the Department of Medicine 1 (gastroenterology, pneumology and endocrinology) at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen (Image: private)

‘Only when we can better understand how these diseases develop and which molecular process play a role in them will we be able to treat them more precisely with medication,’ explains Prof. Dr. Markus Neurath, Chair of Internal Medicine I at FAU and head of the Department of Medicine 1 (gastroenterology, pneumology and endocrinology) at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen. Various working groups from several disciplines (gastroenterology, surgery, dermatology, rheumatology/immunology) – including both researchers and practising doctors – came together to create the CEDER research group which aims to overcome this challenge.

‘In ten sub-projects, we are looking for new ways of treating inflammatory bowel disease through targeted influencing of the immune system,’ says Prof. Christoph Becker. The researchers in one of these these sub-projects are investigating the special role of cytokines – proteins that regulate the growth and functions of cells – in the development of inflammatory bowel disease. To do so the researchers are studying patients with inflammatory bowel disease at various stages in the disease, as well as before and after they start treatment, and comparing the properties of their immune cells. Another sub-project is focusing on the exact mechanism of the medication ciclosporin A which suppresses the immune system’s reaction and is already successful in treating ulcerative colitis, yet has no effect on Crohn’s disease.

In a third sub-project researchers are looking at regulatory T cells – cells that can suppress the functions of the immune system that promote inflammation. The researchers are planning a clinical study in which patients with inflammatory bowel disease are administered a high number of regulatory T cells in a test-tube. They hope that this high number of regulatory T cells will be able to control the immune system and heal the inflammation in the bowel.

During the evaluation of the research centre the committee of experts praised the dynamic development of the centre and its excellent research. They highlighted the fact that the research centre is the leading centre in Germany for inflammatory bowel disease. The reviewers were also impressed by the support given to young researchers and doctors.

Background information: inflammatory bowel disease

The human intestine is home to approximately 100 billion bacteria – ten times more than humans have body cells. The variety of these bacteria is extraordinary – about 500 different species live in various niches in the small intestine and especially in the large intestine. The researchers differentiate between bacteria which cause disease and bacteria which are conducive to healthy intestinal microbiota. Then there are the cells of the immune system that monitor the bacteria. The peaceful co-existence of the two groups is essential to many processes in the human body: if the intestinal bacteria get out of control, this can result in inflammations in various body parts which harm the tissue. Frequently the intestine itself is affected and chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis occur.

More than four million people worldwide are affected, and this number is rising. In order to develop new, more effective therapies against these diseases, an exact understanding of the underlying molecular processes is needed.

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Christoph Becker
Phone: +49 9131 8535886
christoph.becker@uk-erlangen.de

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