DFG to Provide Approximately 39 Million Euro Funding for Three Major Interdisciplinary Projects at Universität Hamburg

Photo: UHH/Esfandiari Das Hauptgebäude der Universität Hamburg
Photo: UHH/Esfandiari Das Hauptgebäude der Universität Hamburg

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has announced that the Universität Hamburg Faculty of Medicine at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) will receive a new collaborative research center (CRC). Two further CRC Transregios, of which Universität Hamburg is part, were extended for a further funding phase.

New funding was granted for the collaborative research center Emerging Viruses: Pathogenesis, Structure, Immunity, which focuses on the precise understanding of viruses, infection processes, and immune reactions at the molecular level. The CRC is based in the Faculty of Medicine at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) and is expected to receive a total of ¤10.8 million by 2028.

The CRC Transregio Energy Transfers in Atmosphere and Ocean, led by Universität Hamburg and the CRC Transregio Treatment Expectation in which UKE is a significant participant have been extended for a further funding phase.

"Congratulations on behalf of Universität Hamburg to all the researchers involved in achieving this great success for our University of Excellence. The new collaborative research center and the extended Transregio projects will serve as beacons in the fields of viruses, climate, and neuroscience. The amount of funding, at almost ¤40 million for these 3 major interdisciplinary projects illustrates their special significance. The new CRC headed by Prof. Marylyn Addo is closely linked to the Gateways to Health Cluster of Excellence application in infection research. The University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) is a close partner. This success is therefore also a good signal for Hamburg as a science location," says Hauke Heekeren, president of Universität Hamburg.

"We are very pleased about the new collaborative research center, which will enable infection research at UKE to take another big leap forward. It is particularly pleasing that, in addition to UKE and the University, many other research institutions in Hamburg are involved in the new CRC 1648. We are also very pleased about the extension of the neuroscientific CRC Transregio 289. We especially congratulate Prof. Addo, Prof. Topf and Prof. Büchel on this extraordinary success," says Blanche Schwappach-Pignataro, dean of the Faculty of Medicine and UKE Board Member.

Collaborative research centers are long-term, interdisciplinary research collaborations that are funded in 3 phases over a maximum of 12 years. The German Research Foundation (DFG) thus supports excellent and comprehensive collaborative projects in basic research. The Transregio is a special form of CRC in which several universities submit and support the proposal jointly.

Collaborative research center Emerging Viruses: Pathogenesis, Structure, Immunity

The World Health Organization (WHO) has presented a list of diseases with the potential to trigger an epidemic in the future. These must be prioritized in the development of diagnostics, drugs and vaccines. The diseases on the current WHO Blueprint Priority List, such as Lassa fever, Ebola virus disease, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), are all caused by RNA viruses.

The new SFB 1648 Emerging Viruses: Pathogenesis, Structure, Immunity, which will receive around ¤10.8 million from the DFG over the next four years, has therefore set itself the goal of researching the fundamental structures and mechanisms of these viral infections. This should improve treatment and prevention options and enable swifter responses to outbreaks. "Above all, we want to investigate how the virus and the host interact, where viruses are vulnerable, and how immune responses can be optimized," explains CRC spokesperson Marylyn Addo, Professor of Infectiology at the Faculty of Medicine and Director of the Institute for Infection Research and Vaccine Development (IIRVD) at the UKE.

A total of 26 researchers from the UKE and Universität Hamburg, Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM), Leibniz Institute of Virology (LIV), Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI), Hannover Medical School, Universität zu Lübeck, and University Hospital Basel will work on understanding the processes even more precisely at the molecular level, using state-of-the-art techniques from cell and structural biology, computational biology, immunology, and biochemistry.

Chris Meier, professor of Organic Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry at Universität Hamburg and an associate member of the Center for Structural Systems Biology (CSSB) in Science City Hamburg-Bahrenfeld, is co-spokesperson of the CRC. "The findings should not only directly improve the targeted treatment of the viruses we already know, but also create a better understanding of the basic mechanisms to make it easier to react to previously unknown pathogens," explains Meier. The second co-spokesperson of the CRC initiative is Maya Topf, UKE professor and head of the Department of Integrative Virology at the Leibniz Institute of Virology and the CSSB. She describes the CRC, which is an important part of the University’s research focus on Inflammation, Infection and Immunity, as unique: "The CRC brings together a multidisciplinary team of basic and clinical scientists, enabling us to utilize the outstanding infrastructure in Hamburg and develop a pipeline that ensures a rapid and effective response to new viral threats."

Collaborative Research Center / Transregio: Energy Transfers in Atmosphere and Ocean

CRC 181, which sees researchers from Universität Hamburg conducting research together with colleagues from Universität Bremen and other non-university partner institutions since 2016, is already in its third funding phase. They study the interactions of turbulence, waves, and eddies in the ocean and the atmosphere. "Many models of our Earth’s climate system have so far been unable to accurately represent these often very small-scale processes and relationships, and there are energetic and mathematical inconsistencies," explains Carsten Eden, professor of Theoretical Oceanography at the Department of Earth System Sciences and the Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN). The researchers, from the fields of oceanography, meteorology and mathematics, therefore aim to develop more accurate models. CRC 181 is thus an essential component of the research focus Climate, Earth, Environment at Universität Hamburg.

To date, numerous new parameters and numerical methods have been developed and implemented in the two most important German climate models. The third phase of the project, to be funded with around ¤15 million, will now focus on applying improved, more accurate models. "Promoting young scientists is particularly important to us," emphasizes Eden, who conducts research at the Institute of Oceanography and is spokesperson for the TRR.

Collaborative research center / Transregio Treatment Expectation

What influence do patients’ expectations have on the effectiveness of medical treatments? This is the question facing researchers from the UKE and Universität Hamburg, the Philipps-Universität Marburg and led by the Universität Duisburg-Essen in the supra-regional CRC 289. The work will now continue into its second phase until 2028, and is expected to receive ¤15 million in funding from the DFG, of which ¤3.8 million will go directly to the UKE. "In the first phase of the project, we investigated the basic psychological and neurobiological mechanisms behind positive and negative expectations, as well as differences between individuals," explains Christian Büchel, professor of Functional Imaging in Cognitive Neuroscience in the Faculty of Medicine and Head of the Institute of Systems Neuroscience at the UKE. He coordinated research in the sub-projects at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf,

which focused primarily on the treatment of chronic pain and depression. The second phase of the project will now focus on how expectations change over the course of treatment, and what effect this has. It also includes other illnesses such as autoimmune diseases. "The focus is always on transferring knowledge and findings into practice as quickly as possible for use in medical therapies," says Büchel. The CRC is part of the University’s research focus Neurosciences and Cognitive Systems and also relates to topics in the emerging field of Change Mechanisms.