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EU supports excellence in research at Helmholtz Zentrum München with more than 8 million Euros funding

The European Union (EU) funds six projects of Helmholtz Zentrum München with a total amount of 8,361,000 euros. Within Horizon 2020, the EU funding program for research and innovation, the project groups had applied for the research call “Health, demographic change and well-being” (H2020-SC1-2019).

Bild: © ipopba/Adobe Stock (modified); Logo: ©EU

Prof. Dr. Matthias Tschöp, CEO at Helmholtz Zentrum München, said that the EU funding confirms the Center’s international position as a center of excellence. „The high number of funded projects reflects the outstanding quality of our research as well as its immense social relevance. Personalized prevention, diagnosis and therapy for environmentally triggered diseases are the core of our mission and one of the major challenges for today's society. These EU-funded projects bring us a significant step closer to the innovative biomedical solutions our society needs in this rapidly changing environment.“

These are the projects with funding for Helmholtz Zentrum München:

TherVacB: Therapeutic vaccine to cure hepatitis B

More than 3% of the world's population (about 260 million humans) are chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Worldwide 880,000 humans die each year from the sequelae: liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Currently, there is no cure. The therapeutic vaccine TherVacB aims to cure patients with chronic hepatitis B. A consortium of leading virologists, immunologists and specialized physicians, led by Helmholtz Zentrum München, will use a newly designed vaccine as an immunotherapy in a two-year clinical trial starting in 2021. With three vaccine shots, one every four weeks, the vaccine induces neutralizing antibodies and T-cell responses. At first, two protein antigens are injected, followed by a MVA (“modified vaccinia virus Ankara”) vector. This vector is designed to express hepatitis B viruses found worldwide. Since Africa suffers from a high infection rate and particular HBV viruses can be found there, part of the clinical trial will be conducted in Tanzania. This shall also help building local capacities for diagnosing and treating hepatitis B. 

  • Scientific contact: Ulrike Protzer
  • Coordinating organization: Helmholtz Zentrum München
  • Helmholtz Zentrum München funding: 4,050,000 Euro
  • Total funding: 10,426,000 Euro

ISLET: Stem cell-based therapies for diabetes patients

The ISLET project will develop a stem cell-based advanced therapy medicinal product (ATMP) for the treatment of patients with type 1 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, a patient's immune system destroys beta cells within the pancreas which produce insulin. The patient is therefore dependent on life-long delivery of insulin. ISLET will develop a product composed of clusters of beta cells derived from human pluripotent stem cells, ready to be used in clinical trials. ISLET also intends to advance this product by engineering clusters that include other islet hormone-producing cells, thus, making the product more alike the golden standard, the human islet. In addition, ISLET will provide solutions to better predict the therapeutic capacity of stem cell products.

  • Scientific contacts: Henrik Semb (coordinator), Heiko Lickert, Micha Drukker
  • Coordinating organization: University of Copenhagen
  • Helmholtz Zentrum München funding: 1,640,000 Euro
  • Total funding: 8,000,000 Euro

GO-DS21: Treatment of comorbidities in Down syndrome

The international consortium GO-DS21 aims to improve the lives of people with Down Syndrome (DS) by developing and implementing new guidelines and treatments for patients with trisomy 21. In this genetic disease, gene overdosage (GO) leads to comorbidities such as obesity and mental disorder. In GO-DS21 leading clinicians, pathophysiologists, geneticists, bioinformaticians and computer scientists will team up and apply artificial intelligence on clinical metadata and experimental data to understand how genetic and environmental mechanisms impact these comorbidities which cause severe suffering of patients. 

  • Scientific contact: Johannes Beckers
  • Coordinating organisation: Centre Européen de Recherche en Biologie et en Médecine
  • Helmholtz Zentrum München funding: 928,000 Euro
  • Total funding: 5,966,000 Euro

discovAIR:  Discovering the cellular landscape of the lung

discovAIR seeks to deepen our knowledge of the cellular complexity of the lung. Since life-threatening lung diseases occur more frequently without effective treatment methods, discovAIR aims to develop a draft of the Human Lung Cell Atlas. This includes molecular profiling of lung cells, spatial mapping of cell states and 3D reconstruction of lung tissue architecture. To identify the molecular phenotypes of cells in disease, discovAIR will include the lung tissue of patients with asthma, COPD and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). In a novel experimental approach, the team will map the transition of the cell state from health to disease. The results will facilitate new approaches in regenerative and precision medicine.

  • Scientific contacts: Fabian Theis, Herbert Schiller
  • Coordinating organisation: University Medical Center Groningen
  • Helmholtz Zentrum München funding: 683,000 Euro
  • Total funding: 8,169,000 Euro

EXPANSE: Healthy living in urban settings

The EXPANSE project explores how health in urban environments could be improved. Cardio-metabolic and pulmonary diseases are among the greatest threats to the European urban population. The team will study how different environmental factors and their changes (so-called “urban exposomes”) influence the onset of these diseases. For this purpose, EXPANSE will examine the health and exposome data of 55 million Europeans. In addition, in-depth OMICS analyses of well-characterized cohorts will be conducted. All EXPANSE findings will be open access to create a knowledge hub for both the general public and decision-makers.

  • Scientific contact: Annette Peters
  • Coordinating organization: Utrecht University
  • Helmholtz Zentrum München funding: 560,000 Euro
  • Total funding: 11,994,000 Euro

NSC-Reconstruct: Cell-based therapies for neurodegenerative diseases

The development of innovative therapies based on cell replacement, cell reprogramming and circuit reconstruction will improve the treatment of a large number of neurological disorders. NSC Reconstruct will build on stem cell-based products for the replacement of single neurons that are already entering clinical trials for Parkinson's disease. The team around Dr. X. will focus on incorporating improved cell types and the reconstruction of local networks in Parkinson's disease. They will also work on repairing complex networks of the cerebral cortex damaged by trauma or stroke. For this purpose, the team will study the immunogenicity of grafted cells and
how it can be minimized. The results will pave the way for future therapies to replace cells in the central nervous system with functionally enhanced and immune-tolerant cells.

  • Scientific contact: Magdalena Götz
  • Coordinating organization: University of Milan
  • Helmholtz Zentrum München funding: 500,000 Euro
  • Total funding: 8,169,000 Euro

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus, allergies and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,500 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 19 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members.