Prof. Ralf Zimmermann, the speaker of HICE, contributed to a TV report showing the health effects of cruise ships for passengers, crew and the people living in coastal areas.

“Particle filters for modern cars are required by law, particle filters for ships are not”, says Prof. Zimmermann. “We see a large number of fine particles, nanoparticles that contain pollutants like polyaromatics which are carcinogenic and cause inflammations.” The results of the scientific research on ship emissions have been published in the journal PLOS ONE in 2015. The TV report “Dicke Luft durch Kreuzfahrtschiffe” ran on the German broadcasting station ARD on 8 March 2017.

Experiments on wood combustion

October 2016. HICE searches for new insights into the health effects of burning wood in households. From 19 September to 7 October 30 scientists from Germany and Finland ran an experimental campaign at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) in Kuopio.

The researchers burned spruce and pine logs as well as softwood pellets in wood stoves to see how the combustion directly affects lung cells. Therefor two air-liquid interface systems were used. The cells were also exposed to diesel emissions. By this the differences between the effects of wood and diesel should be shown under the same experimental conditions. Further understanding about the effects of wood and diesel combustion on human health will be gained by tests with animals that were also pursued during the campaign. The first HICE experimental campaign on wood combustion took place in 2013 and focused on beech, birch and pellets. The results are expected by the end of 2016.


Ship emissions affect lung macrophages

July 2016. Exhaust emissions from ships affect the health of people living nearby coasts. Scientists from the Helmholtz Virtual Institute HICE have shown the effects on lung macrophages. These are immunocompetent cells and play an important role concerning lung diseases like COPD. The results have been published in the renowned open access journal PLOS ONE.


“The macrophages react more sensitive than lung epithelial cells on inhaled particles”, explains Sean Sapcariu, the first author of the paper and PhD Student at the University of Luxembourg, a cooperation partner in HICE. “They represent the ‘first line of response’ in fighting against foreign objects like germs or aerosol particles that intrude the lung.” In their experiments the scientists exposed the cells to two different types of ship fuel: heavy fuel oil and diesel. “We found different strengths of inflammatory responses and other molecular biological pathways, but similar toxic effects”, Sapcariu adds. With this the previous results of HICE from 2015 concerning the biological reactions of human epithelial lung cells to diesel and heavy fuel oil have been confirmed and further validated.

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Wood and diesel experiments in 2016

March 2016. The annual HICE Consortium Meeting took place in Munich on the 25th and 26th of February. Over 40 scientists from 13 different partner organisations participated in the meeting and planned the activities of the upcoming year.

In 2016 HICE will perform experiments with wood and diesel. The experiments will take place at the Helmholtz Zentrum in Munich as well as at the University of Eastern Finland. It is intended to look for the effects of wood and diesel combustion on lung cells and to perceive further understanding about the effects on human health. The scientists also work on the finalization of the results from the experiments with gasoline and ethanol hold at the University of Rostock in 2015.

Quelle: Helmholtz Zentrum München


Studies on gas and bio-fuel exhausts

October 2015. The current discussions on harmful exhausts emitted by cars shows that the research on the emissions from diesel and gas fuel has been not completed by far. In April and May 2015 the HICE scientists examined the effects of gasoline at the University of Rostock. They also investigated bio-ethanol as the current favored alternative to fossil fuels.

The scientists used the set-up and the methodology that was developed in HICE and already applied for ship diesel emissions as well as for emissions from wood combustion. For this they ran an engine with bio-ethanol and gasoline. Lung cells were exposed to the fuels under realistic in vitro conditions in an air-liquid interface exposure system. The interdisciplinary work of HICE was again the main part of the campaign: Chemists and physicians analyzed the chemical composition and physical properties of the particles and gas phase. Biologists will analyse the cellular responses at the transcriptome, proteome and metabolome level. First Results are expected for 2016.


Ship emissions stress lung cells

July 2015. Emissions from ship fuels have massive impact on lung cells – these results were published by scientists of HICE in the journal PLOS one. Both Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) and Diesel have similar strong effect on the cells. This is especially interesting as the diesel is seen by regulation authorities as the “cleaner” fuel. Ships have to use it in areas close to harbors, while the use of HFO is only allowed on the open sea.

„Surprisingly the cells reacted stronger towards the Diesel, that contains more soot but less toxic compounds than the Heavy Fuel Oil”, says Dr. Sebastian Öder, first author of the paper. The Diesel emissions affected essential cellular pathways such as energy metabolism, protein synthesis and chromatin modification. The biological response of the cells was all in all broader than the response on the Heavy Fuel Oil. The reactions to HFO emissions were dominated by oxidative stress and inflammatory responses. The HFO emissions contained high concentrations of toxic compounds such as metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, and were higher in particle mass. These compounds were lower in the Diesel emissions, which in turn had higher concentrations of elemental carbon (“soot”). Common cellular reactions included cellular stress responses and endocytosis.

“We highly recommend to reduce the emissions from ships by installing exhaust filters like it is common for road traffic”, says Prof. Dr. Ralf Zimmermann, the speaker of HICE. “To replace Heavy Fuel Oil with Diesel is with regard to our results not an adequate method to reduce the health effects from ship emissions.” In future studies the scientists want to focus on the role of the soot and on emissions of Marine Gas Oil.

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Summer school on data integration

July 2015. The young scientists in HICE learned about the challenges of data integration at the Summer School 2015 hosted by the University of Cardiff. Regarding the interdisciplinarity of the project the topic of integration is crucial for the common results.

For that all students were given the opportunity to present their data from omics analyses as well as from chemical particle and gas phase analyses. A poster session specified the data they gained from the measurement campaign on wood combustion that took place at the University of Eastern Finland. Experts from the Helmholtz Zentrum München, the Max Delbrück Centre Berlin, the University Mainz and from the University of Rostock referred to the comprehensive work of the students and presented approaches for solutions in data integration and system modelling.


New Measurement Campaign

October 2014. A measurement campaign on the characterization of ship diesel aerosols will take place at the University of Rostock in November. The experiments will especially focus on the ageing of aerosols and are going to apply online and offline mass spectrometry techniques.

Sulfur-rich Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) and desulfurized Marine Fuel Oil (MFO) will be used for the experiments. The aerosols that are generated in the exhaust plume will be aged in a controlled smog chamber. This method makes it possible to study the atmospheric processes and their impact on the properties of the aerosols. A comprehensive characterization of the aged aerosols will then lead to conclusions about possible health effects. The campaign is part of the project WOOd combustion and SHIpping - primary aerosol emissions and secondary aerosol formation potential (WOOSHI). 


HICE Online Seminar

September, 2014. HICE is offering an online seminar with lectures on aerosols and mass spectrometry during the winter term 2014/2015. The seminar is organized together with the Joint Mass Spectrometry Center at the University of Rostock and the Helmholtz Zentrum München.


HICE Spring School 2014

From 2-4 April the HICE Spring School 2014 took place at the Helmholtz Zentrum München. 50 scientists, postdocs and PhD students attended the event. International experts in aerosol characterization, toxicological effects of aerosols and exposure scenarios presented the newest developments in their field.

The Spring School started with a session on Aerosols and Health at the Analytica, the International Trade Fair for Laboratory Technology, Analysis and Biotechnology. The session was headed by Prof. Ralf Zimmermann, the speaker of HICE. Besides the lectures at the Analytica the Spring School participants got the opportunity to discuss directly with the experts at a workshop at the Helmholtz Zentrum München. Furthermore they learned about the work of Prof. Zimmermann’s group and got to know the impact of mass spectrometry on the aerosol and health research. The scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum presented their research at several stations in their labs and gave short flip chart presentations that led to interesting discussions.

For 2015 HICE plans to hold the annual school for its partners and students at Cardiff University.



October, 2013. During three weeks of experiments at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio HICE investigated the effects of aerosols from wood combustion. The HICE partners studied the relationships between chemical and physical properties of the emissions as well as changes in metabolome, proteome and transcriptome of human lung cells.

The cells were exposed to fresh and aged emission aerosols. The scientists used two kinds of combustion appliances, a log wood stove and a pellet burner and examined emissions from the combustion of beech and birch logwood as well as of soft wood pellets. This setting made sure that the experiments focused on the most relevant firewood in Europe. 

First results are expected for the summer 2014. The measurements in Finland were the second big joint campaign for HICE. The first campaign took place at the University of Rostock in November 2012.


HICE Summer School and Workshop in Prague

August, 2013. The HICE PhD students and Post Docs presented their research topics at the HICE Summer School in Prague on 29 and 30 August 2013. The broad knowledge used in HICE was characterized by four groups: Chemistry, Aerosol Physics, Health and Biostatistics. 

Leading experts from aerosol research and environmental health discussed the impact of combustion aerosols on human health on the HICE Workshop from 31 August to 1 September. Over 100 participants turned their attention to the state-of-the-art characterization of aerosols by bioassays, on-line mass spectrometry and advanced molecular profiling techniques. The Gesellschaft für Aerosolforschung e.V. (GAeF) and the Helmholtz Virtual Institute HICE hosted the meeting. Support was given by the Helmholtz Zentrum München. 


Lab Training Course

October, 2012. The Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) offered a lab training course on profiling cellular metabolism from the 8th to the 12th of October. Together with the Metabolomics Group of the LCSB led by Dr. Karsten Hiller the HICE partners analyzed metabolic effects caused by wood combustion derived nanoparticles on human lung cancer cells.

The group cultivated human lung cancer cells in the presence of such particles. To measure intracellular metabolic flux changes, the scientists applied stable-isotope tracers. After the cultivation of the cells, they extracted intracellular metabolites and prepared them for mass spectrometric measurement. Finally, they analyzed the obtained data and detected changes in metabolite amounts and intracellular fluxes caused by the particles. 


HICE Inauguration

May, 2012. "HICE provides a bright and encouraging topic in the pioneering research field of humans, environment and health", congratulated Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schareck, chancellor of the University of Rostock. Prof. Dr. Günther Wess, scientific manager of the Helmholtz Zentrum München, strengthened the collaboration between the scientists and especially emphasized the long-term perspectives for prevention. Dr. Wolfgang Kreyling from the Helmholtz Zentrum München presented an exciting lecture on the impacts of particulate matter on human health. After a press conference the guests enjoyed a harbor tour in Rostock and started their scientific discussions. For the next five years, chemists, physicists, toxicologists, engineers and computer scientists will seek for a better understanding of the harmful impact of aerosols on human health.