State of Lower Saxony funds innovative MHH teaching project

[Translate to Englisch:] Woman sitting in front of a laptop. Copyright: Karin Kaiser/MHH
[Translate to Englisch:] Copyright: Karin Kaiser/MHH

University trains medical students in knowledge and technology transfer for the first time and receives 50.000 euros for a new elective subject.

Status: 15 January 2021

Success for teaching at the Hannover Medical School (MHH): In a call for proposals by the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture, the university has received 50.000 euros for an innovative teaching project. The money from the "Innovation plus" funding program of the state of Lower Saxony will be used to set up a new teaching module at the MHH. The aim is to develop didactic and digital teaching and learning methods for the new elective subject "From idea to product - knowledge and technology transfer".

For the first time, the teaching project introduces methods for the development of business ideas, transfer processes and strategies into medical studies and is intended to sharpen students' awareness of the possibilities of transferring research results and ideas for the medical care of patients to the economy and society.

"Especially in medicine, it is elementary that science and the health sector work hand in hand. Only the transfer of research results to patient care opens the door for new examination and treatment methods that can save lives," explains Björn Thümler, Lower Saxony Minister for Science and Culture. "I am very pleased that the MHH also wants to further advance this area in teaching."

Knowledge and technology transfer will become part of medical studies

The prospective medical students will gain insight into successful examples of translation and acquire the necessary tools to be able to introduce ideas for medical care and therapy into the health system after their studies. "We have already trained researchers and students in the life sciences in knowledge and technology transfer and now we would like to be one of the first universities in Germany to pass on this knowledge in medical studies," explains Professor Dr. Dr. Thomas Thum, Head of the MHH Institute for Molecular and Translational Therapy Strategies and founder of Cardior Pharmaceuticals GmbH, who is responsible for teaching.

Together with the MHH's Research Promotion, Knowledge and Technology Transfer (FWT) staff unit, on whose initiative the project came about, Professor Thum will contribute his knowledge as an expert in this field. "The earlier we start imparting knowledge, the greater the chance that good ideas will ultimately be of benefit for the patient," says Christiane Bock von Wülfingen, head of the FWT staff unit. The new teaching offer for students from the 4th academic year onwards will start in summer.


Prof. Thum has joined Fraunhofer ITEM as institute director

[Translate to Englisch:] Prof. Dr. Dr. Thum. Copyright: Karin Kaiser/MHH
[Translate to Englisch:] Prof. Dr. Dr. Thum. Copyright: Karin Kaiser/MHH

Status: 12 January 2021

On January 1, 2021, Prof. Thomas Thum joined the Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine ITEM in Hannover as new institute director. He will henceforth manage the institute together with Prof. Norbert Krug, who has been director of Fraunhofer ITEM for the past four years. In addition, Prof. Thum has accepted the call to a full professorship in “Translational validation of innovative therapeutics” at the nearby Hannover Medical School (MHH), a position that is linked to the Fraunhofer Institute directorship.

For many years, the specialist in cardiology and bioscience has been doing research on the functional characterization and translational potential of novel therapeutic RNA strategies targeting cardiovascular diseases, most recently at MHH as professor and director of the Institute of Molecular and Translational Therapeutic Strategies. With over 400 publications, he is a world-renowned expert in this subject area. At present, Prof. Thum’s research activities are focused on the diagnosis and therapy of organ dysfunction and fibrosis, gene therapy approaches as well as mechanisms of COVID-19 and appropriate therapeutic strategies with regard to the cardiovascular system and beyond. He has founded the successful biotech company Cardior Pharmaceuticals GmbH as a spin-off from MHH and has filed and licensed numerous patents in the areas of RNA diagnostics and therapy.

Broader focus: the heart complementing the lung

Prof. Thum’s research focus ideally complements the existing focuses of Fraunhofer ITEM in the field of lung and airway research. Besides chronic lung conditions, heart failure in particular is playing an important role, a worldwide increasing disease with a prevalence of currently up to 60 million patients and one of the main reasons for hospitalization. Especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the long-term consequences of this disease, the number of patients with heart failure is likely to increase significantly. Despite the growing importance of this medical condition, however, there has been little progress in the research on heart failure over the past 20 years.

 

“We are pursuing a completely novel approach,” says Prof. Thum. “Using high-throughput methods and platform technologies, we are seeking RNA-based strategies as effective therapies for heart disease. We have already made remarkable progress in this area and industry is showing strong interest. For Fraunhofer ITEM, enhancing its research focus to include also the organ system heart is both a challenge and a great opportunity. In past collaborative projects, we already identified promising synergies and potential. I am very much looking forward to further expanding these together now!”

Benefit for translational medicine

While Professor Thum's work in the context of his new professorship at MHH will have a primary focus on basic research, his Fraunhofer activities will be more of a translational and application-oriented nature, in line with the Fraunhofer model. "We are very pleased that Prof. Thum, who is an outstanding researcher, will further expand and strengthen the synergies between MHH and Fraunhofer ITEM," says MHH president Prof. Michael Manns. These further strengthened ties with MHH and the intensified translation from bench to bedside will be a benefit to Fraunhofer's innovative strength in health research and eventually also to mankind. Prof. Thum has already successfully advanced several molecules identified in his laboratories to the stage of clinical use in humans.

“Key criteria for the success of a Fraunhofer Institute include not only scientific success, but also transfer competence. This is why I am very happy to be able to shape the future of Fraunhofer ITEM together with Prof. Thum, to provide decisive scientific impetus and translate it into applications,” emphasizes Prof. Krug. “The institute’s continued development is essential in making our vision – being pioneers for sustainable health – come true.”

Both institute directors will manage Fraunhofer ITEM in tandem. Prof. Thum will be in charge of the institute’s divisions of Preclinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Chemical Safety, and Translational Biomedical Engineering. In addition, he will set up a new research unit “Cardiovascular Research” at the institute. Prof. Krug will continue to be in charge of the division of Clinical Airway Research, the Braunschweig-based division of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and the Regensburg-based division of Personalized Tumor Therapy.

 

Read more about Prof. Thomas Thum:

 

About Fraunhofer ITEM:

The Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine ITEM is one of 74 institutions of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Europe's leading organization for applied research. Protecting man from health hazards in our industrialized world and contributing to the development of novel therapeutic approaches are the aims Fraunhofer ITEM is pursuing with its contract research. The institute’s R&D portfolio comprises three business units, with a focus on airway research: Drug Development, Chemical Safety and Assessment, and Translational Biomedical Engineering. In addition, the institute’s Regensburg-based division does research on personalized tumor therapy. With a staff of approximately 380 at its locations in Hannover, Braunschweig and Regensburg, the institute cooperates in projects with industry, service providers and universities that drive economic development and serve the wider benefit of society.

Read more about Fraunhofer ITEM


Martina Saurin is the new Vice-President of the MHH

The new Vice-President Martina Saurin. Copyright: MHH

Experienced business graduate heads the Department of Business Management and Administration

Status: December 30, 2021

Hannover Medical School (MHH) has a new Vice-President: Martina Saurin, a long-standing player in the healthcare sector and in various management positions, heads the Department of Business Management and Administration in the University's Presidential Board. "Ms Saurin's vast experience in various management positions in university medicine will be of great benefit to the MHH," explains Lower Saxony's Minister of Science Björn Thümler.

"We are pleased to have gained an excellently qualified and networked Vice-President for Business Management and Administration for our Executive Board in Ms Saurin. Ms Saurin will strengthen us in the Executive Board and be able to provide decisive impetus on the path to a successful future for the MHH," emphasises MHH President Professor Dr Michael Manns. "In addition, she brings with her expertise with regard to the upcoming construction projects, which will significantly determine the further development of the MHH in the coming years."

Change from UKE to MHH

The business graduate studied in Kiel and gained professional experience in Hamburg and Rostock - not only in the hospital sector, but also in auditing and industry. In the past four years, Martina Saurin worked at the UKE as Business Unit Manager Finance and Deputy Commercial Director, and from mid-2017 to the end of 2018 as a provisional member of the Executive Board.

"Since my first experiences at the University Medical Center Rostock, I have been fascinated by the complexity of university medical facilities. The responsibility of taking on difficult cases, ensuring the education of students and at the same time driving the future of medicine through research is particularly high under today's circumstances," says the 56-year-old. "Keeping an eye on economic efficiency in the process is my challenge, which I am happy to take up here in Hannover."

Martina Saurin succeeds Andrea Aulkemeyer, who is following a professional reorientation after six years at the MHH.


MHH President is one of the most cited researchers worldwide

Status: November 24, 2020

Another success for Professor Dr. Michael Manns: As in previous years, the internist and gastroenterologist is once again on the list of the most frequently cited scientists worldwide. The list of the "Highly Cited Researchers 2020" of the U.S. company Clarivate Analytics comprises around 6200 names in 22 disciplines. This makes the MHH President one of the most influential minds in research. He was already listed as a Highly Cited Researcher in 2019, 2018 and 2017. "I am very pleased to receive this award as recognition of my research work," says the award-winning liver and hepatitis researcher.

Professor Manns is listed in the "Cross-Field" category. It covers researchers who have an interdisciplinary influence on science - i.e. beyond their actual field of work. The "Web of Science", in which all citations of scientific studies are collected, serves as the basis for the list of best researchers. For the evaluation, the scientific publications of the years 2009 to 2019 were analyzed and it was examined how often the work of the researchers was cited by colleagues from the scientific community in their publications. But not only the number of citations is an indicator of the scientific influence. The reputation of the scientific journal in which publications were made is also included in the evaluation.

The current list includes about 6200 researchers from the natural and social sciences and medicine, including 345 from Germany. The evaluation is based on data and analyses from the "Institute for Scientific Information" at Clarivate and takes into account the one percent of publications that were cited most frequently within a specific discipline within the specified period. The "Who's Who" of science also provides information on the countries and research institutions in which the scientific elite work.

Further information is available from Professor Dr. Michael P. Manns, praesident@mh-hannover.de, telephone (0511) 532-6000.

The complete list of "Highly Cited Researchers 2020" and further information is available on the Web of Science website.


MHH starts COVID-19 therapy study with blood plasma from convalescents

[Translate to Englisch:] Professor Dr. Rainer Blasczyk shows frozen blood plasma in the cold room of the Institute for Transfusion Medicine and Transplant Engineering.
[Translate to Englisch:] Professor Dr. Rainer Blasczyk shows frozen blood plasma in the cold room of the Institute for Transfusion Medicine and Transplant Engineering. Copyright: Karin Kaiser/MHH

Status: November 17, 2020

There is still no really promising drug against COVID-19. One option is the treatment with blood plasma of people who have already survived this disease - with so-called convalescent plasma. Antibodies against the virus contained in blood serum could support the immune defence of infected persons in their fight against SARS-CoV-2. Now a new clinical study is to clarify how well this passive immunization actually works. Under the direction of Professor Dr. Rainer Blasczyk, Head of the Institute for Transfusion Medicine and Transplant Engineering at Hannover Medical School (MHH), researchers from the MHH, the clinics in Dortmund, Krefeld, Magdeburg and Essen as well as the Siloah Hospital in Hannover are investigating whether the therapeutic transmission of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 can prevent severe courses of COVID-19 disease. The multi-center study, entitled COMET, starts this Tuesday at the MHH and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) with approximately 3.34 million Euros.

Preventing severe disease progression

Although convalescent plasma is already being used in clinics against COVID-19 - due to the special situation in times of a pandemic, an exception is provided for in the German Medicines Act. However, there is still no proof of efficacy for this form of therapy. This is now to be provided by clinical studies. Two of these are already underway, but are investigating plasma administration in critically ill patients. In contrast, 340 COVID-19 patients between the ages of 18 and 75 years, who have a rather mild course of disease, are participating in the COMET study: Although they need to be treated in a hospital, they do not yet require ventilation. Passive immunization with the donated pathogen-specific antibodies could thus prevent lighter COVID-19 patients from having to be transferred to the intensive care unit during their hospital stay. "We believe that the earlier we use adoptive immunotherapy, the better," says Professor Blasczyk. The transfusion physician is therefore convinced that prophylactic treatment - for example for non-infected high-risk patients - could even prevent the disease completely.

Donor plasma is being closely examined

The study participants are divided into two groups. One group will receive 250 milliliters of donor plasma on two consecutive days, the other group will not receive plasma as a comparison group. In order to ensure that the plasmas contain sufficient anti-SARS-CoV-2 active antibodies on the one hand and no potentially harmful substances on the other, the donor plasma is first tested in the laboratories at the MHH Institute of Virology and TWINCORE. "Plasma has two advantages: It is safe and is available within a short time", emphasises Professor Blasczyk. The COMET study runs until the end of next year. However, the transfusion physician hopes to be able to present results much earlier.

    For plasma donations COVID-19-Genesene can turn to Institut for transfusion medicine and transplant engineering under RKP-Spende@mh-hannover.de.
    Information on the COMET study can be found here.


SARS-CoV-2: How many neutralizing antibodies are needed for protection?

[Translate to Englisch:] Dr. Berislav Bosnjak (right) and Professor Dr. Reinhold Förster (left) in a laboratory of the Hannover Medical School (MHH) with the new test procedure.
[Translate to Englisch:] Dr. Berislav Bosnjak (right) and Professor Dr. Reinhold Förster (left) in a laboratory of the Hannover Medical School (MHH) with the new test procedure. Copyright: Karin Kaiser / MHH

Status: November 05, 2020

Infections with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 can progress in very different ways: While some people have no symptoms, others fall seriously ill. An important question that often arises after surviving an infection is the extent to which neutralizing antibodies against the virus have been produced, as only these can protect the body from re-infection.

To detect neutralizing antibodies, infectious viruses, living cells and laboratories with a high safety standard are usually required. Due to the very high requirements of this test, only very limited blood samples from convalescent patients can be tested for the presence of neutralizing antibodies in blood serum. "To change this, we have developed a very simple and rapid procedure that requires only two proteins that are important for the infection process: The spike protein of the virus and the protein ACE2 of the cell. If the binding of the spike protein to ACE2 is suppressed by serum antibodies, these antibodies are also able to prevent the infection of cells with the virus," says Dr. Berislav Bosnjak from the Institute of Immunology at the Hannover Medical School (MHH). He is first author of the study now published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Immunology.

New test can be further developed for the clinic

"With the help of the test developed by us it is now possible to examine a large number of patients over a longer period of time in clinical studies and to determine how long these so important antibodies are present in the blood", emphasizes Professor Dr. Reinhold Foerster, head of the MHH Institute of Immunology and senior author of the study. The new method is still only available for research. However, it could potentially be adapted so that it can be used for routine tests in the future.

With both the previous and the new method, the team was able to show that about ten percent of SARS-CoV-2 infected persons had no protective antibodies in their blood. This primarily affected infected persons who showed only mild symptoms and were only ill for a short time. On the other hand, the patients developed many antibodies that had stronger symptoms and were ill for longer periods of time. "It is still unclear how much neutralizing antibody is needed to protect convalescents from re-infection. But with the test now available, it will be possible to answer this important question more quickly," says Professor Förster.

Other staff members of the MHH Institute of Immunology, the Institute of Virology and the Institute of Transfusion Medicine and Transplant Engineering were involved in the study. Teams of the Clinic for Rheumatology and Immunology as well as the Clinic for Pneumology and the German Primate Center in Göttingen also participated.

The research project "Low serum neutralizing anti-SARS-CoV-2 S antibody levels in mildly affected COVID-19 convalescent patients revealed by two different detection methods" was funded by the Corona Research Funding Program of Lower Saxony, the Cluster of Excellence RESIST and the Collaborative Research Center SFB 900 of the German Research Foundation.

Keyword: Neutralizing antibodies

Of the antibodies that people have in their blood after successfully surviving an infection with SARS-CoV-2, the neutralizing antibodies are particularly effective. They are a particularly important group of antibodies because they dock to the virus and prevent the virus from entering and multiplying in human cells. Neutralizing antibodies can therefore switch off the virus.

You can find the original paper here.


MHH is looking for volunteers aged 60+ for Corona study

Prof. Dr. Christoph Schindler (from right to left), the head study nurse Carola Westenberg and investigator Dr. Macus May. Copyright: MHH / Karin Kaiser.
Prof. Dr. Christoph Schindler (from right to left), the head study nurse Carola Westenberg and investigator Dr. Macus May. Copyright: MHH / Karin Kaiser.

Tuberculosis vaccine is intended to strengthen the immune system against the corona virus in older people.

Status: November 05, 2020

A vaccine against tuberculosis could help to achieve a stage victory against the corona virus. The MHH is therefore increasingly looking for people over 60 years of age to be vaccinated with the so-called immune booster VPM 1002. The preparation is intended to strengthen the immune system in its fight against the Sars-CoV-2 pathogen. "VPM 1002 is the genetically improved variant of a vaccine that is decades old and is used in many countries to fight the tuberculosis pathogen," says Professor Dr. Christoph Schindler from the Hannover Medical School (MHH), head of the CRC Core Facility at the Clinical Research Center Hannover. Because the vaccine apparently not only helps against the Tuberculosis bacterium but also improves the immune response in general, it could also strengthen the defense against the corona virus. "In the ideal case, the vaccination reduces the probability of contracting corona virus disease," explains Professor Schindler. Interested persons can contact us at: Telephone (0511)-5350 8333 (recruitment telephone) or by e-mail at: CRC.Studienteilnahme@mh-hannover.de


How the heart really beats - MHH researchers refute textbook theory

Professor Dr. Christian Wahl-Schott with a model of the human heart. Copyright: Karin Kaiser/MHH.
Professor Dr. Christian Wahl-Schott with a model of the human heart. Copyright: Karin Kaiser/MHH.

Our heart beats unceasingly and of its own accord - but not always at the same speed. MHH researchers have now investigated how the heartbeat is regulated.

Last update: November 04, 2020

Our heart is a high-performance engine. Without a break, the hollow muscle pumps blood through the body and ensures that all cells are supplied with oxygen. In a healthy adult, this happens about 60 to 80 times every minute, or about three billion heartbeats in the course of a lifetime. Even outside the body, the heart can do its work at a constant rate. This is because the heartbeat is created in the heart itself. Specialized heart muscle cells in the right atrium form the so-called sinus node as pacemaker cells.

Whether our heart beats faster during exertion or slower at rest is regulated by the autonomous, so-called autonomic nervous system. A research group led by Professor Dr. Christian Wahl-Schott, Head of the Institute of Neurophysiology at the Hannover Medical School (MHH), in cooperation with the Institute of Pharmacology for Natural Sciences at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, has now investigated in more detail how this mechanism works, thereby refuting a common doctrine. The joint study has now been published in the renowned journal Nature Communications.

Ion channels stabilize the heart rhythm

Pacemaker cells are electrically active. Special ion channels guide positively charged particles through the cell membranes in the sinus node. These HCN channels (hyperpolarisation-activated cyclic nucleotid-gated cation channels) are modulated by a specific signal molecule, cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate). "For decades, the hypothesis was valid that a higher cAMP concentration increases the heart rate, a lower one slows down the heartbeat," explains Professor Wahl-Schott. But contradictory observations from practice increasingly cast doubt on the theory. To test the old assumption with molecular biology methods, the research team genetically modified the binding site for cAMP in the HCN channels in the heart of mice and prevented the messenger substance from switching on the channels. "The mice have developed an irregular heartbeat as a result," says the physician. "Contrary to previous assumptions, however, the heart rhythm could still be regulated.

Since the binding site between messenger substance and ion channel is very similar in mice and humans, the results of the study can be transferred from animal models to humans: They show that especially the ion channels of the subunit HCN4 stabilize the heart rhythm and prevent excessive reactions of the autonomous nervous system. Individual pacemaker cells even pause for minutes and do not fire any electrical signals to the heart muscle cells at all, thus directly regulating the heart rate. "These findings are important in order to better understand the mechanisms of heart diseases such as rhythm disturbances or the sick sinus syndrome in the future," emphasizes Professor Wahl-Schott. However, the new observations on the heartbeat's clock could also have an impact on the treatment of heart diseases - for example, when using drugs that specifically influence the HCN channels.

  • The original publication "cAMP-dependent regulation of HCN4 controls the tonic entrainment process in sinoatrial node pacemaker cells" can be found here.