The collaboration between Friedrich Luft and FAU goes back three decades. “Professor Friedrich Luft has helped put the nephrology department at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg on the international map, and he continues to be involved in nephrological-hypertension research in Erlangen up to this day. For many years now, he has also advocated vehemently and with great commitment for improving the training and career paths of young clinicians. Moreover, he has contributed essential knowledge on the genetic forms of hypertension through, among other things, his meticulous clinical observations,” said Professor Kerstin Amann, head of the Department of Nephropathology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, in her laudatory speech at the ceremony on July 25 conferring the Doctor of Medicine honoris causa on Friedrich Luft. This is the second honor of this kind for Professor Luft, who also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Pécs in 2002.
In 1989 Friedrich Luft accepted a professorship in Erlangen, but already in 1992 he joined the newly established MDC in Berlin. His work, however, is in many ways closely connected with the Bavarian university. He carried out one of his most important studies with a young physician from Erlangen’s children’s hospital. It was conducted mainly on the Black Sea coast in northeast Turkey. Half of the members of a large family suffered from a rare form of hypertension, which is genetically linked to brachydactyly (abnormally short fingers or toes). That was in 1994; in 2015 Friedrich Luft and his team at the ECRC succeeded in identifying the mutated enzyme responsible for the disease. This research, which is overseen by Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, still continues today. Two animal models, which will soon be published and could lead to new treatments, have since been created in collaboration with MDC researchers.
Physician and researcher
Another central research focus of Friedrich Luft is the body’s salt balance and its effect on cardiovascular diseases. This topic is also closely connected with Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, for Luft started working on this topic in 2000 on the suggestion of FAU professor Jens Titze. Together they discovered a previously unknown mechanism for storing sodium chloride in the skin, and that its impairment causes hypertension. A few years ago, the two researchers and their teams were able to show that a high salt intake may not be as harmful as long believed.
Friedrich C. Luft was born in Berlin in 1942. He studied zoology at Colorado College in Colorado Springs and medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, where he earned his doctorate in 1968. From 1975 to 1989 he was a professor in the Department of Nephrology and Intensive Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis in the United States. At the MDC Friedrich Luft set up a research group focusing on the molecular genetics of cardiovascular diseases, and from 1993 to 2010 he was also chief physician in the Department of Internal Medicine and Nephrology at the Franz Volhard Clinic. In 2007 he was appointed director of the newly founded ECRC, which he headed until 2018. Professor Luft received the Richard Bright Award of the American Society of Hypertension in 2004, and three years later he was honored with the Hypertension Research Award of the American Heart Association and with the Franz Volhard Medal of the German Society for Nephrology. In 2008 the medical students of Charité bestowed on him the Lehrbär for his outstanding teaching. The physician still heads his research group. It mainly investigates the special form of hypertension that Professor Luft has now been studying for a quarter-century.
He had this to say about the honorary doctorate from FAU: “I am very pleased to be recognized in this way. It has always been very important for me to get young people excited about medical research, and I have succeeded in doing just that in both Erlangen and Berlin. The programs I started back then are still running today.”
Text: Wiebke Peters
Editor, Communications Depratment
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medizine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC)