Ulm: New Research Centres for Diseases of the Nervous System
Federal Minister Schavan inaugurates new DZNE and University of Ulm institutes
Ulm, January 11th, 2013. Federal Research Minister Annette Schavan opened two new neuroscience institutes today in Ulm. They are supported by the Federal Government as well as by the Land of Baden-Württemberg, and will expand the current research activities of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and the University of Ulm. The new centres are intended to develop diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and will assist in incorporating new scientific findings into clinical practice as quickly as possible. They focus on two diseases of the nervous system for which there are no known cures at present: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
"The University of Ulm and the DZNE are both leading institutions in the field of ALS and FTD research on the international stage," says Federal Minister Schavan. "In order to give patients a perspective, we need to ensure that results obtained in the laboratory are put into practice more rapidly." Experts from universities and university clinics therefore need to cooperate with non-university institutions such as the DZNE. Schavan adds: "We highly appreciate the fact that institutions of the Federal Government and the Land of Baden-Württemberg are joining forces for a common goal concerning research on ALS and FTD. Furthermore, I am delighted that the University of Ulm has been able to obtain financial support for its own ALS research centre. This will enhance the University’s internationally leading role in the area of clinical ALS research."
Nationwide and internationally
The newly-opened centres include the Helmholtz Virtual Institute “RNA dysmetabolism in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Dementia” and the “ALS Research Center”. They are independent of one another, but will be cooperating together closely.
The virtual institute is actually a research partnership under the auspices of the Helmholtz Association. This partnership includes institutions in Germany as well as in Sweden and France. Partners are the DZNE with its sites in Dresden, Munich and Tübingen, the University of Ulm as well as the universities of Umeå and Strasbourg. The result is a unique network that stretches throughout Europe and connects fundamental research and clinical research. The goal of the virtual institute is to incorporate scientific discoveries on ALS and FTD as quickly as possible into clinical treatments.
Additionally, the “ALS Research Centre” has officially opened in Ulm. This institute will focus specifically on the research of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It was jointly established and financed by the Medical Faculty at the University of Ulm, the Charcot Foundation and the Land of Baden-Württemberg.
Virtual Institute: The Helmholtz Virtual Institute “RNA dysmetabolism in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Dementia” is supported by the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. Approximately two-thirds of the Helmholtz Association budget is provided by public funding. The DZNE Dresden site is responsible for the coordination of the virtual institute and Prof. Gerd Kempermann is the speaker.
The institute has a total budget of approximately EUR 900,000 per year. A third of the budget is provided by its partners, and the remaining two-thirds are financed by the Initiative and Networking Fund of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. The initial funding phase is set for a term of five years.
In 2007 the Helmholtz Association established so-called “virtual institutes”. These provide a framework for collaborations between Helmholtz Centres, universities and other research institutions, both nationally and internationally. For more information, please visit:www.helmholtz.de/en/helmholtz_centres_networks/helmholtz_virtual_institutes
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) are both neurodegenerative diseases: they cause a loss of neuron function. Due to this neurons may eventually die.
ALS, also referred to as “Charcot’s Disease”, is characterized by a rapidly progressing loss of muscle control. This leads to impaired mobility in the limbs giving afflicted patients the feeling that they are trapped in their own bodies. Patients will commonly die within a few years after the symptoms surface. In rare cases, of which the British physicist Stephen Hawking is the most notable, patients can live with the disease for a long time. In Germany with its population of approximately 80 million people, estimates place over 150,000 patients suffering from ALS - an average of 1 in 500 people. Although ALS may present itself in childhood, it primarily appears in patients over 50 years of age.
FTD affects the character and personality of patients and leads to changes in social relationships. The symptoms vary greatly: some patients become apathetic and lose interest in their friends, family and hobbies; others become short-tempered. This is often accompanied by speech disorders, and many patients no longer conform to customary social behaviors: they make offensive remarks, and often neglect personal hygiene and body care. Estimates indicate that approximately ten thousand individuals suffer from FTD in Germany. The illness commonly surfaces in patients between 50 and 60 years of age. FTD is the second most common cause of “young onset dementia” (i. e. presenting in people under the age of 65) after Alzheimer’s disease.
The virtual institute “RNA-dysmetabolism in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Dementia” will be researching the molecular mechanisms of ALS and FTD. These diseases exhibit different symptoms, but they have similar causes: in both cases, genetic information is not copied properly from the DNA into the so-called RNA. The RNA acts like a messenger between the DNA and protein generation. Therefore, errors in the transfer of genetic information lead to proteins which are defective and that are therefore unable do their job properly. As a consequence, brain cells suffer a loss of function and may eventually die. The goal of the virtual institute is to learn the causes of these disturbances in the metabolism of RNA.
Prof. Dr. Gerd Kempermann
Speaker of the Helmholtz Virtual Institute
“RNA-dysmetabolism in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Dementia”
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Dresden
Prof. Dr. Albert C. Ludolph
Director of the neurological department of Ulm University
Director of “ALS Research Centre” and Deputy Speaker of the Helmholtz Virtual Institute
Dr. Dirk Förger
Head of Press and Public Relations
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases
Head of Press and Public Relations
University of Ulm