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News

Helmholtz Institute for Metabolic, Obesity and Vascular Research (HI-MAG) founded

Diabetes affects large numbers of people in Germany, and complications of the disease make it one of the biggest health challenges facing society. To accelerate the development of novel, precision therapies in this field, the DZD partner Helmholtz Zentrum München, the Leipzig University Faculty of Medicine and Leipzig University Hospital have come together to found the new Helmholtz Institute for Metabolic, Obesity and Vascular Research (HI-MAG). A ceremony to mark the foundation of the Institute was held in the Rotes Haus, Leipzig, on June 13.

Gründungsunterzeichnung des neuen Helmholtz-Instituts für Stoffwechselforschung in Leipzig. Quelle: Universität Leipzig, Fotograf Swen Reichhold

 

“Obesity and diabetes are common diseases which are a huge burden for millions of people. I am therefore delighted that a unique institute devoted to metabolic research is being established in Leipzig with a spectrum of interests that is unparalleled worldwide. We hope that the interplay between basic and clinical research will give rise to new treatments for these conditions, helping the many people who are affected by them," declared German Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek. The Institute will receive long-term funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Federal State of Saxony. Starting in 2021, once the Institute is established, the BMBF will provide 90% of annual financing, amounting to 5 million euros. The State of Saxony will contribute the remaining 10%, corresponding to 0.55 million euros per year.

The new Institute aims to bring together world-class expertise from these complementary research fields. “HI-MAG will combine first-rate obesity and adipose tissue research in Leipzig with outstanding metabolic, diabetes and preclinical research expertise from Munich,” explains Prof. Günther Wess, CEO of Helmholtz Zentrum München. “Our excellent clinical links in Leipzig will also help our efforts to rapidly get the fruits of this research to where they are needed – to patients.”

The initiators of the project hope that this combination will allow them to analyze the connections between morbid obesity and complications like diabetes, leading eventually to better treatments. HI-MAG’s work will focus on three core areas. Firstly, they hope to achieve a better understanding of the biology of adipose tissue, enabling them to use targeted interventions to modify this. Key areas here include adipose tissue signaling molecules (adipokines), brown fat and the etiology of fatty liver. The second major focus will be interdisciplinary research on metabolism, with the aim of understanding obesity from a metabolic perspective. The third area of research will be the vasculature, which is often narrowed as a complication of obesity. Newly identified biomarkers in this area should make it possible to commence therapeutic measures at an early stage.

“Helmholtz Institutes have developed into an excellent basis for long-term strategic partnerships between Helmholtz Centers and universities,” explains Prof. Otmar D. Wiestler, President of the Helmholtz Association. “They enable the partner organizations to combine their individual expertise in order to tackle major social challenges such as diabetes. This creates the perfect conditions for accelerating advances in prevention, diagnosis, treatment and research for the benefit of patients. HI-MAG will plug an important gap.”

“In order to coordinate all these areas and bring them to the point of delivering successful research, a founding director is needed with outstanding expertise and excellent connections both locally and internationally,” explains Leipzig University Vice-Chancellor Beate Schücking. “We are therefore delighted to have recruited just such an individual in Prof. Michael Stumvoll from Leipzig University Hospital.”

Prof. Michael Stumvoll is currently Scientific Director of the Integrated Research and Treatment Center (IFB) Adiposity Diseases, deputy spokesperson of Leipzig-based Collaborative Research Centre 1052 “Mechanisms of Obesity” and Director of the Clinic for Endocrinology and Nephrology at Leipzig University Hospital. He will now additionally be responsible for getting HI-MAG up and running. “HI-MAG, with its focus on research into lifestyle diseases, will further enhance Leipzig University Hospital’s strength in diseases of obesity, as well as in type 2 diabetes, disorders of the peripheral circulation, adipose tissue dysfunction and fatty liver as complications of obesity. The inclusion of vascular medicine in particular showcases what an outstanding research location this is,” notes Prof. Michael Stumvoll.

This is confirmed by Prof. Wolfgang E. Fleig, Medical Director of Leipzig University Hospital: “The new Center will complement our clinical focus on lifestyle diseases perfectly,” he explains. “Our goal is always to be able to offer our patients treatment based on the latest scientific findings. Working closely with HI-MAG will provide us with even faster access to the latest research findings. Conversely, collaboration with the University Hospital will enable the new Institute to undertake clinical trials involving patients.”

To this effect, there will be a strong focus on translational approaches, including the use of biobanks. All stakeholders are hoping in particular that the new Institute will deliver progress in developing new therapeutic approaches. From drug development to vascular implants through to drug-eluting stents, there are many ideas in play.

And there are likely to be more to follow – one in five people in Germany are overweight, and consequently at increased risk of complications such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The health cost of obesity, amounting to billions of euros, is also of major economic significance.

Dr. Eva-Maria Stange, State Minister for Science and the Arts stressed the importance for the Federal State of Saxony of future research projects at the newly founded Institute: “The foundation of the new Helmholtz Institute reaffirms the remarkable growth in health research in Saxony as a result of the collaboration between University Hospitals and Helmholtz Institutes. This includes research at the Leipzig and Dresden University Hospitals, the German Centre for Diabetes Research, the German Cancer Consortium and the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases. In addition, over the last few years, Leipzig University Hospital has expanded its activities in the field of obesity research, creating the ideal conditions for HI-MAG. We now have a great opportunity to become an international leader in a scientifically and socially important field of medical research. I am convinced that the initial funding of 10.4 million euros over the first four years provided by the Saxony Ministry for Science represents an excellent investment.”

Background:
Helmholtz Zentrum München is a partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research and has highly successful collaborations in this field with the Technical University of Munich, the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU), the University of Tübingen, University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus in Dresden, the German Diabetes Center in Düsseldorf and the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbrücke. The new Institute in Leipzig will expand this existing long-term collaboration in research into obesity and its complications and place it on a firmer footing.