Three early career researchers from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin have succeeded in securing funding from the European Union’s flagship funding program. ERC Starting Grants support only the most outstanding research proposals and are awarded at the end of a highly competitive selection process. This year, Charité’s researchers performed remarkably, securing all three ERC Starting Grants awarded to German researchers in the area of immunity and infection. Each of the successful applicants will receive approximately €1.5 million over a period of five years. The ERC Starting Grants provide a generous funding package to excellent projects and the outstanding early career researchers who lead them.
Dr. Christoph Klose is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell Weill Medicine in New York. Thanks to his ERC Starting Grant, he will be able to establish a research group at Charité’s Institute of Microbiology, Infectious Diseases and Immunology. His work focuses on the ways in which nervous system-mediated processes regulate the immune system and affect inflammatory processes. This research aims to enhance our understanding of chronic inflammatory processes, with a view to improving the treatment of immune-mediated disorders. Dr. Julia Polansky-Biskup, principal investigator of the EpiTune project, shares these. Dr. Polansky-Biskup is based at two translational research-oriented centers, the Berlin-Brandenburg Center for Regenerative Therapies (BCRT) and the Berlin Center for Advanced Therapies (BECAT) and is Liaison Group Leader at the DRFZ. Her research project aims to optimize cellular adoptive immunotherapy and bridges the gap between targeted basic research and first applications in humans. Dr. Antigoni Triantafyllopoulou is a Rheumatologist at Charité’s Medical Department, Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, Liaison Group Leader at the German Rheumatism Research Center (DRFZ). As a principal investigator of the DDRMac project, she will be investigating the role of the DNA Damage Response on the development and progression of chronic granulomatous diseases. The aim of her research is the identification of new treatment strategies in patients with chronic inflammatory disorders.
Congratulating the successful applicants on their ERC Starting Grants, the Dean of Charité, Prof. Dr. Axel Radlach Pries, says: “Our sincerest congratulations go to Dr. Klose, Dr. Polansky-Biskup, and Dr. Triantafyllopoulou on their outstanding achievements. The complex interplay that exists between the body’s immune and other systems is an extremely exciting area of medical research, with a myriad of opportunities for developing new treatment approaches. The fact that three of Charité’s projects from this area of research have been awarded ERC Starting Grants is extremely pleasing.”
ENTRI (Dr. Klose): ‘Enteric nervous system-mediated regulation of intestinal inflammation’
The ways in which the nervous and immune systems exchange information, and the ways in which they mutually influence and regulate one another, remain largely unknown. The aim of the ENTRI project is to understand how the nervous system responds to infections, and how different stimuli, such as stress, influence what are known as type 2 immune responses. Type 2 immune responses play a crucial role in the development of atopic diseases such as allergic asthma, food allergies, neurodermatitis and hay fever. They also regulate wound healing processes and are involved in mediating immunity against parasitic worms. As part of the ENTRI project, Dr. Klose will be studying the ways in which these types of immune responses are regulated by the nervous system. Results from this research may inform new treatment strategies aimed at alleviating atopic diseases, chronic inflammatory bowel disorder and intestinal infections by parasitic worms.
EpiTune (Dr. Polansky-Biskup): ‘Epigenetic Fine-Tuning of T Cells to Improve Adoptive Cell Therapy’
T cells form an integral part of the body’s immune system. However, in certain diseases, these immune cells will be too aggressive, too passive, or attack the wrong target. The first step in adoptive T cell therapy is to collect T cells from the patient. These cells are selectively expanded, optimized for the fight against the disease in question, and injected back into the patient. The immune system is effectively reprogrammed using a completely new class of drugs. This type of treatment has already produced promising results, though in some cases the therapeutic effect of treatment has only been temporary. This is partly caused by cell aging and the functional instability of cells. The aim of EpiTune is to alter the structural environment of the patient’s genetic information. Known as the epigenome, this structural environment controls the activity of individual genes. Dr. Polansky-Biskup is hoping to use the epigenetic fine-tuning of T cells to strengthen the immune system in its fight against pathogens or cancer, or to strengthen its ability to prevent unwanted immune responses (such as in rheumatism), in the hope of allowing the immune system to produce more effective and sustainable responses.
DDRMac (Dr. Triantafyllopoulou): ‘DNA Damage Response-Instructed Macrophage Differentiation in Granulomatous Diseases’
Granulomas are part of an immune response to foreign material or microbes that our body cannot easily remove. They are tissue structures consisting of immune cells that eat the persisting foreign material or microbes. These immune cells are known as macrophages. In patients with immune dysfunction, macrophages may form granulomas due to hyperactivity of the immune system, in the absence of an identifiable external stimulus. In this case, granulomas replace healthy tissues and promote disease. Diseases of the immune system associated with granuloma formation affect millions of people worldwide and include immune diseases affecting the joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis, the intestine, such as Crohn’s disease, the lung, such as sarcoidosis and the blood vessels, such as giant cell arteriitis. How granulomas form in such situations of immune dysfunction is a black box. Dr. Triantafyllopoulou’s group has recently uncovered that the macrophage programs responsible for granuloma formation are driven by signals produced as a result of genotoxic stress (DNA damage). In the DDRMac project, Dr. Triantafyllopoulou aims to analyze the role of the cellular response to DNA damage in the development and progression of chronic granulomatous diseases. Interrupting the signaling pathways responsible for granuloma formation may open a new avenue for the treatment of chronic inflammatory disorders.
German Rheumatism Research Center (DRFZ), a Leibniz Institute
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
t: +49 30 450 570 400
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