Extensive funding for research on chromatin, adrenal gland, and cancer therapy


At the end of May, the Joint Committee of the German Research Foundation (DFG) decided on the funding for Collaborative Research Centers (Sonderforschungsbereiche, SFBs). The Helmholtz Zentrum München is participating in three of the selected projects. A total of around 5.3 million euros will be distributed to the participating institutes over a period of four years starting on July 1.

Graphic DNA; Copyright: panthermedia.net/twindesigner

In the framework of the now extended project "Chromatin Dynamics", the researchers are pursuing the processes around the DNA; © panthermedia.net/twindesigner

Chromatin Dynamics (SFB 1064)

In the framework of the now extended project “Chromatin Dynamics”, the researchers are pursuing the processes around the DNA: Our cells store their genetic information within the cell nucleus in a structure known as “chromatin”. The focus is particularly on the histone proteins around which the DNA is wound. Certain chemical changes of the histones can determine whether or not the genes are transcribed. The project’s objective is to understand these small chemical additions and discover new relevant changes.

To this end: numerous disciplines are cooperating: Epigenetics, developmental biology, endocrinology, virology and molecular physiology. This is not surprising given that modifications of the histones can be influenced by numerous processes, such as ageing, metabolic processes, and diet. Conversely, changed chromatin can support inflammatory or metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cancer. Therefore, the participating scientists hope to understand these molecular processes in order to allow selective intervention in the future. Moreover, there will be research projects on embryogenesis and human fertility, as well as the therapeutically interesting field of targeted stem cell production.

Prof. Dr. Peter Becker (LMU) is coordinating the project. Participating from the Helmholtz Zentrum München are Prof. Dr. Maria Elena Torres-Padilla (IES), Dr. Nina Henriette Uhlenhaut (IDO), Prof. Dr. Dirk Eick (MEG), Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hammerschmidt (AGV) and Prof. Dr. Robert Schneider (IFE). They will be receiving a total of approximately 2.8 million euros for their work.

The Adrenal Gland: Central Relay in Health and Disease (SFB/Transregio 205)

In this newly approved SFB, the researchers want to answer basic scientific and translational questions regarding the adrenal gland, which could also be called the human stress organ: The adrenal cortex produces steroid hormones (such as cortisol) and is involved in water, mineral and glucose balances. The adrenal medulla forms adrenaline and noradrenaline and is part of the sympathetic nervous system. The whole organ consequently plays a crucial role in stress reactions and has become much more important in light of our modern lifestyle. For instance, the rapid spread of diabetes is also due in part to hormonal effects. Moreover, adrenal disorders or tumors can influence processes that are essential for survival.

The SFB’s objective is to understand the complex interactions within the adrenal gland as well as those with other organ systems. One example is mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI imaging), which the team at the Helmholtz Zentrum München uses to analyze tissue samples for hormones and various metabolic products that were previously not possible to visualize. The results should support the established hormone analysis in the blood and tie it to the findings in the adrenal tissue. Another project uses a next generation sequencing (NGS) approach to shed light on the interaction of hormones and adipose tissue on a genome wide level. Moreover, one focus of the SFB is the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms promoting adrenal tumor formation with the long-term goal of identifying novel therapies.

The project's spokesperson is Prof. Dr. Stefan R. Bornstein from the Technische Universität Dresden. Participating from Helmholtz Zentrum München are Dr. Natalia S. Pellegata (IDC), Dr. Nina Henriette Uhlenhaut (IDO), Prof. Dr. Stephan Herzig (IDC) and Prof. Dr. Axel Karl Walch (AAP). Their work will receive around 1.7 million euros in support.

Imaging for Selection, Monitoring and Individualization of Cancer Therapies (SFB 824)

The objective of the now extended project on imaging of cancer therapy is to develop methods to visualize the tumor biology in order to individually adapt and monitor the treatment of cancer patients.

Over the long term, this should improve the success of cancer therapies with the help of imaging methods such as MRT, PET or MSOT. Moreover, the participating scientists want to develop new methods of molecular imaging which allow them to improve the prediction and evaluation of therapy effects. It should furthermore become possible to detect tumor tissue at an early stage and visualize metabolic and cell biological processes like proliferation, angiogenesis and substrate transport. A potential application would be to estimate a tumor’s aggressiveness from the cell biological signals.

Specific sub-projects at the Helmholtz Zentrum München cover the analysis of metabolic differences within individual pancreatic cancers. These are to be investigated with mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI imaging). Additionally, the metabolic imaging of cancer cachexia will be analyzed within the framework of the SFB. Cancer-induced body weight loss (cancer cachexia) is a clinical problem that significantly contributes to the mortality of various cancers. Finally, early response monitoring to anti-angiogenic treatment of neuroendocrine tumors will be achieved by multi-modal imaging.

The SFB coordinator, Thorsten Geerken, and the spokesperson, Prof. Dr. Markus Schwaiger, both come from the Klinikum rechts der Isar in Munich. Participating from the Helmholtz Zentrum München are Dr. Natalia S. Pellegata (IDC), Dr. Mauricio Berriel Diaz (IDC), Prof. Dr. Stephan Herzig (IDC), Prof. Dr. Vasilis Ntziachristos (as Chair of Biological Imaging at the Technical University of Munich) and Prof. Dr. Axel Karl Walch (AAP). Their work will be supported with around 760,000 euros.

MEDICA-tradefair.com; Source: Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt
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