Treating chronic inflammation with approaches from nature

Stefan Lorkowski and Dr Maria Wallert coordinate the research group. Image: Anne
Stefan Lorkowski and Dr Maria Wallert coordinate the research group. Image: Anne Günther (University of Jena)

Chronic inflammation contributes to many common diseases, such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, fatty liver and intestinal diseases, and also increases the risk of cancer. To treat these diseases, medicine has so far mainly relied on substances that inhibit the body’s immune response. However, these often have very unspecific effects on the one hand and numerous side effects on the other. Scientists from Friedrich Schiller University Jena and Jena University Hospital have now joined forces to evaluate selected natural compounds and natural compound extracts in combination with nutrients for the treatment of chronic inflammation. The aim of the new "nature4HEALTH" research group is to clarify the mechanisms of action and the effectiveness of such combinations. The Free State of Thuringia is funding the group with almost 1,000,000 Euros from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) until December 2026.

Combination of natural compounds and nutrients

Natural compounds with anti-inflammatory or inflammation-resolving effects include, for example, extracts of frankincense resin. They have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic folk medicine to treat inflammatory diseases. The body’s own metabolites of vitamin E and essential nutrients such as selenium also play an important role in the modulation of inflammation and offer promising potential for effective drugs. "By combining promising natural compounds with nutrients such as selenium, vitamin E or omega-3 fatty acids, we want to try to synergistically improve the properties of the bioactive natural compounds," says Stefan Lorkowski from the University of Jena, who is coordinating the research group’s work together with Dr Maria Wallert.

Natural compounds packaged in nanoparticles are more readily available

Natural compounds and natural compound extracts often have a low bioavailability that is difficult to control or are only absorbed in very small quantities through food. In order to transport the selected bioactive natural compound combinations to the desired site of action in the body in a targeted, safe and efficient manner, the researchers want to "package" them in nanomaterials made of natural and biocompatible synthetic polymers. This will improve bioavailability and enable controlled release.

The researchers also want to use this concept in future to package other bioactive natural compounds and their combinations in nanomaterials and make them usable for medical applications, emphasizes Maria Wallert. "In this way, we not only want to provide new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases, but also contribute to a better understanding of the effect of natural compounds, natural compound extracts and physiologically relevant nutrients as a whole."

Interdisciplinary team

The "nature4HEALTH" research group is comprised of scientists from the Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology at Jena University Hospital ( Jürgen Reichenbach and Dr Karl-Heinz Herrmann), the Clinic of Internal Medicine ( med. Andreas Stallmach), the Institute of Pharmacy at the University of Jena ( Oliver Werz), the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Macromolecular Chemistry (Dr Stephanie Schubert) and the Institute of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Jena ( Anna Kipp, Stefan Lorkowski and Dr Maria Wallert).