The German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) presented its research activities along with the other German Centers for Health Research (DZG) at an innovation forum at the Capital City Congress for Medicine and Health (Hauptstadtkongress). The main topics were the rapid transfer of research results from the laboratory to the patient and possible starting points for physicians and industry. In the symposium “Diabetes – New Approaches to Individualized Prevention and Treatment”, which was held on June 15th, DZD scientists presented two multi-center studies on the development of personalized treatment strategies for diabetes.
More than six million people in Germany suffer from diabetes mellitus – and the incidence is rising. “The fight against highly prevalent diseases is given top priority in research policy,” said Dr. Helge Braun, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Education and Research. “With the founding of the German Centers for Health Research, research findings shall be transferred quickly into medical practice for the benefit of patients.” Insights into the strategies of the German Centers for Health Research (DZG) were presented to the medical community at the 2012 Capital City Congress for Medicine and Health in a panel discussion with renowned experts. Professor Martin Hrabĕ de Angelis, a member of the board of the DZD and director of the Institute of Experimental Genetics at Helmholtz Zentrum München, represented the DZD. Current advances in the development of new treatment strategies for diabetes were presented by the DZD scientists in the symposium “Diabetes – New Approaches to Individualized Prevention and Treatment”.
“Clinicians and laboratory researchers collaborate closely in the German Center for Diabetes Research. Here the interdisciplinary environment provides great conditions for the development of individualized prevention strategies and tailored, causal treatments“, said Hrabĕ de Angelis. In a joint endeavor entitled “Collaborative Research for a Future without Diabetes” five partners are working together in the German Center for Diabetes Research: Helmholtz Zentrum München, the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke, the German Diabetes Center in Düsseldorf and the Universities of Tübingen and Dresden.
Early detection and prevention of diabetes
Alarmingly, in Germany there are around 270,000 new cases of type 2 diabetes each year, and the number is increasing. “One of the causes of the growing diabetes epidemic is our modern lifestyle with too much eating and too little exercise,” said Professor Hans Hauner of Technische Universität München, pointing out one of the most important reasons for this development. Actually, the solution to this problem would be very simple: 50% of the patients with type 2 diabetes could better control their disease if they could lose four kilos in body weight. “Our genes often determine if we have a tendency to be overweight: obesity has a strong hereditary component,” said Hauner, giving a possible explanation for unsuccessful dieting attempts. And even more important, genes determine the distribution of the body fat. If the fat deposits are primarily in the abdominal area, they are clearly associated with an increased risk of diabetes.
Individualized prevention strategies
“However, lifestyle change is not enough to achieve successful prevention for all persons with an increased risk of diabetes. In the pre-diabetes intervention study we want to develop individual risk strategies for these patients to eliminate the chance of the disease developing in the future,” said Professor Hans-Ulrich Häring of the Institute of Diabetes Research and Metabolic Diseases of Helmholtz Zentrum München at the University of Tübingen. In the group of diabetes risk patients in whom the adipose tissue is primarily deposited around the trunk of the body and who also have insulin resistance and impaired insulin secretion, a change in diet combined with more exercise is often not sufficient to prevent or at least delay type 2 diabetes. In this multi-year study, the DZD scientists are exploring which preventive measures are most effective in the individual subgroups of pre-diabetes patients. The aim is to develop effective prevention strategies with the aid of genetic analyses and biomarkers.
Avoid the late complications of diabetes
“Diabetes is a multifaceted disease, and the course of diabetes is different in every patient. The German Diabetes Study focuses mainly on the development and the individual course of type 1 and type 2 diabetes,” said Professor Karsten Müssig, director of studies at the German Diabetes Center in Düsseldorf. Characteristics such as the distribution of fat in the body as well as concomitant diseases or medications influence the diabetes and the development of late complications. In this study, newly diagnosed patients with diabetes are examined in great detail, i.e. phenotyped, and the course of the disease and the possible emergence of late complications is monitored over several years. DZD researchers pay particular attention to genetic and immunological aspects as well as the role of environmental factors like diet and exercise. To date, the study comprises 500 patients. Due to the extension of the study to the other four DZD locations, a high, significant number of patients can be enrolled in the study within a short period. The scientists hope to quickly gain new insights into the effectiveness of various treatments and into the prevention of secondary diseases.
The DZD in Action: Faster Translation of Research Discoveries to Benefit Patients
“In the interdisciplinary environment of the DZD more than 250 scientists work together to develop innovative treatment concepts for diabetes. Research stays of scientists at partner institutions, regular workshops, an own DZD program for the advancement of young scientists and cross-institutional research infrastructures strengthen the internal cooperation and communication. Due to the networking projects that the DZD has initiated during the past two years and the established structures and collaborations, it is already evident that the insights gained in basic research are reaching the clinic and benefiting patients more quickly,” said Hrabĕ de Angelis, summing up the work of the DZD research network.