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Erika von Mutius to Head New Institute for Asthma and Allergy Research

Since July 1, 2017, Professor Erika von Mutius, MD, MSc heads the new Institute for Asthma and Allergy Prevention (IAP) at Helmholtz Zentrum München. As both a pediatrician and an epidemiologist, von Mutius will significantly strengthen the research fields of lung diseases and allergy.

Prof. Dr. Erika von Mutius

Prof. Dr. Erika von Mutius, Source: Klinikum der Universität München

Almost everyone is familiar with the hygiene hypothesis stating that the immune system in early childhood needs training to protect itself against asthma and allergies. In extensive international field and population studies which included active farm families, Erika von Mutius contributed robust evidence in support of this hypothesis. Through clinical studies and laboratory experiments she was subsequently able to confirm these findings. Among other awards, in 2013 she received the Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Order of Merit on Ribbon of the Federal Republic of Germany for her research. Since 2014 she has been a member of the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina. Started on July 1st, she now also heads her own Institute at Helmholtz Zentrum München.

Interface between research and patients

“We are very glad to have Professor von Mutius aboard: She will contribute significantly to advancing the research areas of lung and allergy,” said Professor Günther Wess, CEO of Helmholtz Zentrum München. As speaker of the Munich site of the German Center for Lung Research (DZL), she is well networked in the field and can serve as an interface between research and the patients, for example at LMU University Hospital. This exchange is intended to bring the translational research approaches of Helmholtz Zentrum München closer to the patient and conversely, to communicate the corresponding needs of the patients to the researchers.

Concrete projects planned

Together with her team, Erika von Mutius will continue to focus on asthma and allergies in childhood, as the disease mechanisms remain largely unclear. “We want to elucidate how the disease develops in order to prevent its manifestation,” she said. With her new institute she plans to focus on two concrete projects:

  • In-depth characterization of asthma phenotypes through the ALLIANCE cohort of the DZL
  • Identification of microbial factors that protect against asthma and allergies, as part of HERA and other studies

The new director already has numerous points of contact to ongoing research activities of Helmholtz Zentrum München because longstanding successful collaborations exist to Helmholtz scientists in both lung and allergy research. Fittingly, the focus of her research – and likewise that of the Center – is the interaction between environment and health.

Since 2004 von Mutius has been Professor of Pediatric Allergology at LMU and has headed the Department of Asthma and Allergology at Dr. von Hauner Children’s Hospital in Munich for 17 years. She belongs to numerous scientific associations (European Respiratory Society (ERS), European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), etc.), and is a member of the editorial board of the New England Journal of Medicine and was editor of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and the European Respiratory Journal, among others.

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus, allergies and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,500 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 19 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members.