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13.06.2018

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

Diabetes and associated complications affect large numbers of people in Germany and represent one of the major health challenges of our society. To accelerate the development of novel precision therapies in this field, Helmholtz Zentrum München, the Leipzig University Faculty of Medicine and Leipzig University Hospital have joined forces 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.

[Translate to Englisch:] Gründungsunterzeichnung des neuen Helmholtz-Instituts für Stoffwechselforschung in Leipzig. Bildquelle: 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 for 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 at bringing together world-class expertise from these complementary research fields. “HI-MAG will combine first-rate obesity and adipose tissue research in Leipzig with outstanding expertise from Munich regarding metabolic, diabetes and preclinical research,” explains Prof. Günther Wess, CEO of Helmholtz Zentrum München. “The excellent clinical links in Leipzig will also help our translational efforts to rapidly get the fruits of this research to where they are needed – to patients.”

The initiators of the project hope to identify the connections between obesity and comorbidities like diabetes, leading to better long term treatment options. HI-MAG’s research activities will focus on three core areas. Firstly, the scientists hope to achieve a better understanding of the biology of adipose tissue, enabling targeted interventions. Key areas 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 prevention, diagnosis, treatment and research for the benefit of patients. HI-MAG will bridge an important gap.”

“In order to coordinate all these areas and to pave the way to scientific success, 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 the implementation of HI-MAG. “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 recent scientific findings. Working closely with HI-MAG will provide us with even faster access to current research findings. Conversely, collaboration with the University Hospital will enable the new Institute to undertake clinical trials involving patients.”

At the same time, translational approaches will be in the focus, including the use of biobanks. All partners hope that the new institute will promote progress in the development of new therapeutic approaches. From drug development to vascular implants through to drug-eluting stents, there exist many ideas.

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.”


Further Information

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.

As the German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medicine for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of common diseases such as diabetes and lung diseases. To achieve this, it studies the interaction between genetics and environmental and lifestyle factors. The Zentrum is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München employs a staff of around 2,300 and is a member of the Helmholtz Association, made up of 18 scientific/technical and medical/biological research Centers employing around 37,000 people. 

Leipzig University Hospital: The Leipzig University Faculty of Medicine educates around 3,100 students in the areas of human medicine and dentistry. The second oldest university medical faculty in Germany, it offers a total of 321 places for its coveted human medicine degree, a further 52 for dentistry and, since winter 2016/17, a further 48 places for pharmacy. With more than 6,000 employees, Leipzig University Hospital and the Medical Faculty, with their 53 institutes, independent departments and units, are one of the largest employers in Leipzig and the Leipzig region. The University Hospital provides the highest standards of medical care to more than 400,000 in and outpatients per year.