HIV-infected H9 T cell

Future Topic: Immunology & Inflammation

The Initiative and Networking Fund of the Helmholtz Association

The Initiative

Five Helmholtz Centers are joining forces in a new initiative that aims to advance immunology research and the development of new therapies. The MDC is coordinating the long-term project, which was launched in November 2017 with a three-year program.

There is a mood of optimism among the immunology community, because the past few years have seen great strides made in immune system research. The first immunology therapies have been approved, while others are being tested in clinical trials. Researchers are uncovering ever more details about the complex system of organs, tissues, and different cell types that make up the human immune system.

The initiative entitled “Immunology & Inflammation” brings together immunology research – which is spread out over various Helmholtz Centers – in a common structure. Of twenty projects, six are organized as “tandem” projects in which laboratories of different Centers work closely together.

MDC researchers Michela Di Virgilio and Klaus Rajewsky are leading and coordinating the initiative. It is the nucleus for an undertaking that intends to position the Helmholtz Association as a main player in application-oriented immunology research internationally.

Key scientific questions addressed by the initiative 

  • How is the tissue specificity of immune cells generated and how is it affected by environmental influences, plasticity and the tissue microenvironment? 

  • What is the mechanistic link between infections, immune reactions and their microenvironment, inflammatory responses and central nervous system disorders, including neurodegenerative disease, and how can we use this information to better understand and treat these disorders? 

  • How can our knowledge of the immune system be applied to develop innovative therapies, including the identification of novel antigens for immune therapies and gene repair strategies in monogenic immune diseases?

The Helmholtz Centres have a broad repertoire of state-of-the-art technologies and expertise to work on these topics. Examples are CRISPR/Cas9-mediated mutagenesis, genetic mouse models, cell-fate-mapping, organoids and tumor explants, as well as GMP production of pharmaceuticals and many years of experience in conducting clinical studies.

Aside from new and joint research projects, the training of the next generation of basic and clinical researchers in immunology, as well as scientific exchange, is also in the focus of the future topic.

Featured picture: Scanning electromicrograph of an HIV-infected H9 T cell. Credit: NIAID, cc-by-2.0

Participants

These 23 research teams are taking part in the initiative:

Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)

The MDC is devoted to understanding the molecular basis of health and disease, with a focus on disease mechanisms at a system-wide level and the translation of findings into clinical applications.

It cooperates closely with Charité, a large university hospital in Berlin. Joint institutions include the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC) und the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH).

One of the research areas at the MDC is immunology and inflammation, which covers tumor immunology, DNA repair in B lymphocytes, the role of tumor stroma-immune cell interaction in cancers, the role of innate immune cells in gliomas and neurodegenerative diseases, and the development of immunotherapy strategies.

The MDC’s participating research groups bring a broad range of technological expertise to the initiative – ranging from biochemical assays, structure and function analysis, and gene editing to the development of preclinical mouse models, GMP production, and even clinical trials.

German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)

The DKFZ is a multidisciplinary center covering cancer biology from basic molecular and cell biology to clinical research and care.

Through the National Center for Tumor Diseases, a joint venture between the DKFZ, Heidelberg University Hospital, and German Cancer Fund, the DKFZ has access to patients for research from bench to bedside and back. The participating groups of the DKFZ bring in broad expertise in fundamental and clinical tumor immunology, the link between cancer, chronic inflammation and viral infection, neuroimmunology, and immune surveillance of tumors.

The center will contribute technological expertise crucial to the success of the proposal, such as the generation and characterization of pre-clinical mouse models, in vivo fate mapping, GMP production, and innovative clinical trials.

German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)

The DZNE focuses on neurodegenerative disease, covering both research on the fundamental molecular and cellular basis of neurodegenerative disease as well as clinical and population research.

The participating groups cover an especially exciting area of research, namely the link between innate immune and inflammatory mechanisms to neurodegenerative disease. The center will provide expertise on profiling neurodegeneration, neuroinflammation and neuronal function including in vivo imaging, CNS histology, generation of human-derived cellular models, and their functional assessment under physiological and pathological circumstances.

Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU)

The HMGU aims to contribute significantly to a better understanding of major non-communicable common diseases which develop from lifestyle, environmental factors and personal genetic background, most notably diabetes and allergy.

The overall goal of HMGU’s research is to elucidate the complex disease causes and to develop innovative approaches for their precise diagnosis, prevention and therapy. The participating groups bring in their expertise in the basic molecular mechanisms of T cell signaling, activation, and tolerance, as well as T cell immunity and immunotherapy in diabetes, allergy and lung diseases.

The center will contribute important technological expertise in the generation and provision of novel pre-clinical mouse models, tools to fate map tumor cells and immune cells, and a translational approach for CRISPR/Cas9-based gene therapy of monogenic diseases.

Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)

The HZI has expertise in the area of infectious diseases, investigating the fundamental principles underlying infection processes to develop innovative approaches to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases.

In this context, the host’s innate and adaptive immune responses to infection, evasion mechanisms that allow pathogens to circumvent the host defenses, and underlying mechanisms of pathogen clearance are dissected.

Within this proposal, the HZI will contribute expertise in epigenetic imprinting for the identification of immune cell subsets, epigenome-editing of T cells using CRISPR/Cas9, predictive mathematical models, mouse behavioral analysis, as well as expertise in clinical trials and GMP production of antibodies and immune cells.

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Funding period

2017 – 2020

 

Funding amount

5,000,000 € from the Initiative and Networking Fund of the Helmholtz Association

5,587,127 € co-funding by the Research Centers

 

Participating Helmholtz Centers

German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
Helmholtz Center Munich (HMGU)
Helmholtz Center for Infection Research (HZI)
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)

 

Coordination

MDC

 

Governing Body

Klaus Rajewsky (MDC)
Michela Di Virgilio (MDC)
Matthias Heikenwälder (DKFZ)
Michael Heneka (DZNE)
Ulrich Kalinke (HZI)
Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann (HMGU)

 

Contact

 

Governing Body

Prof. Dr. Michela Di Virgilio
Michela.DiVirgilio@mdc-berlin.de

Prof. Dr. Klaus Rajewsky
Klaus.Rajewsky@mdc-berlin.de

 

Coordination

Marta González Gómez
Marta.GonzalezGomez@mdc-berlin.de
+49 30 9406 4268