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Prof. Dr. Norbert Weißmann, Photo: Rolf Wegst

Over 13 Million Euros For New Therapies In Life-threatening Cardiopulmonary Diseases

News 2020-254-E EN

The collaborative research center 1213 for cardiopulmonary research in Giessen, spearheaded by DZL scientist Prof. Dr. Norbert Weissmann, will be funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for another four years. The first funding period has already led to numerous successes.

The heart and lungs make a perfect team: for example, the right ventricle is able to considerably increase oxygen supply to the body in case of physical stress; thin-walled pulmonary vessels provide a blood flow that is nearly free from resistance, hence optimizing oxygen uptake. However, this interaction is severely disrupted in many diseases including, but not limited to, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), COVID-19, lung cancer, cardiac insufficiency, and particularly pulmonary hypertension. Here, thickened pulmonary vessels lead to a reduction in the cross-sectional area, so the right ventricle is overloaded as a result of more difficult pumping. Consequences include deterioration in performance, severe dyspnea, and water retention. Led by Justus Liebig University Giessen (JLU), scientists under a DFG collaborative research center (SFB) investigate the harmful remodelling processes in the lungs and heart in order to develop new therapeutic strategies for fatal and hitherto in-curable pulmonary hypertension and overload of the right ventricle. Funding for SFB 1213 “Pulmonary hypertension and cor pulmonale” has now been extended. For the next four years, DFG has allocated some 13.84 million euros to the collaborative research center.

“I am truly delighted that the important work of our research consortium has been honoured in this way and can now be continued,” suggests Weissmann, speaker of the collaborative research center, who holds a professorship at JLU, Excellence Cluster Cardio Pulmonary Institute (CPI). “We have reached the four-year milestone on our way to identify new target structures for the treatment of pulmonary hypertension and failure of the right heart.” To give just one example, the researchers have identified a molecular mechanism which controls the disease from the wall of the vessels. These findings have enabled them to achieve promising results in the Treatment of pulmonary hypertension with a cancer drug .

For the first time ever, a significant connection between pulmonary hypertension and lung cancer could be established, and similar mechanisms in cancer cells as well as in pulmonary vessel cells be detected. They result in the uninhibited proliferation of cells and formation of excessive tissue. These groundbreaking findings could lead to developing targeted therapies for both indications. Consequently, in the next funding period, a new project will engage in the more precise decoding of the similarities between cancer and pulmonary hypertension.

Moreover, the researchers have been able to determine which mechanisms the right ventricle uses to compensate for an overload in pulmonary hypertension, or rather what happens when these mechanisms no longer work – what is known as decompensation. They have been able to demonstrate, among other things, that certain medication stabilizes the heart muscles and thus prevents the progressive loss of function. Moreover, they have found biomarkers that allow determining the degree of disease severity in the right heart. The role of the left ventricle will be more thoroughly investigated in another new project coming up in the new funding period.

The fact that the collaborative research center “Pulmonary hypertension and cor pulmonale“ has found itself at the center of international attention is also owed in part to the current corona crisis. It is in charge at the Center for Internal Medicine of the Medical Clinic II at JLU, Department of Medicine. In addition to JLU, other participants include Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research, Campus Kerckhoff of Justus Liebig University Giessen and their Faculty of Medicine in Bad Nauheim as well as Philipps University Marburg. They also work in close collaboration with the Imperial College London (Great Britain).

In order to continue with the successful development of new therapies, the coordination of many hospitals is required in order to efficiently conduct clinical studies. Linking health services research to ongoing basic research at the current state of the art of science also en-sures quality of care for the patients of this clinical network. DZL researcher Prof. Dr. Dr. Friedrich Grimminger, co-applicant and Hessian network coordinator, emphasizes: “It is our mission to bring heart, lung, and tumor research - as performed by the most successfully coordinated collaborative research center 1213 led by Weissmann - also to our patients as quickly as possible. Germany will only be able to keep up with the international competition of big research facilities by bundling regional hospital capacities. New therapeutic approaches require both outstanding basic research and sufficient clinical capacities in order to actually get the millions of funding to the bedside.”

The research consortium combines basic scientific research with clinical research. Investigations cover a wide range including genetic studies, the analysis of molecular signalling mechanisms, aspects of cell and developmental biology, preclinical disease models, imaging processes, clinical studies as well as work with databases and biobanks. “The decisive factor for our success is a close interlocking of different projects, direct integration of clinical research, and an outstanding collaboration of project heads,” Prof. Weissmann emphasizes.

In addition to the collaborative research center at the DZL site Giessen, the DFG funds the SFB/Transregio Innate immunity of the lung: mechanisms of the pathogen attack and host defense in pneumonia led by the Berlin DZL scientist professor Dr. Norbert Suttorp, also with the participation of DZL researchers from Giessen and Marburg.

Scientific Contact

Prof. Dr. Norbert Weissmann
Speaker of SFB 1213
Excellence Cluster Cardio Pulmonary Institute (CPI)
Justus Liebig University Giessen
Telephone: 0641 99-42414

Further Information

Pursuant to §47 Hessian University Law, the Research Campus of Central Hesse (FCMH) is an inter-university facility of Justus Liebig University Giessen, Philipps University of Marburg, and Technical University of Central Hesse for the strengthening of regional interconnection in research, promotion of young researchers, and research infrastructure.

Key objectives of the joint research activities of researchers of the Campus Research Focus “Lung and Heart“ are a better understanding of the heart-lung system and the fight against common pulmonary and cardiac diseases by incorporating system-medical and health informatics approaches as well as artificial intelligence.

Website of the Campus Research Focus “Lung and Heart“:

DZL Engagements