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The intestinal microbiome sets the focus for nutrition scientists at TUM. Red: bacteria, green: intestinal mucosa, blue: epithelial cells.
The intestinal microbiome sets the focus for nutrition scientists at TUM. Red: bacteria, green: intestinal mucosa, blue: epithelial cells. (Picture: D. Haller/TUM)
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Two-million euro funding for research into intestinal microbiotaGut bacteria – harmful or helpful?

All healthy intestines contain bacteria. But they also play a role in a variety of intestinal diseases. A number of research projects at Technische Universität München (TUM) will closely examine the interaction between these microorganisms (microbiota) and the immune system of the gut lining. Around 2 million euros in funding will be channeled into this work over the next three years.   

A significant portion of the funding will be provided by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for the new priority program SPP 1656. The participating scientists will investigate the ecosystem of gut microorganisms, including those that trigger Crohn’s disease. The number of people affected by this disease in Germany is currently estimated at 350,000. Little is known about the cause, formation or development of this inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The aim of the research is to discover which gut microorganisms in healthy and inflamed areas interact with the intestinal mucosa.

TUM as project coordinator

A total of 22 research groups from across Germany will be participating in SPP 1656. The DFG is investing 6.9 million euros in the three-year project, which will involve experts in immunology, microbiology, gastroenterology and nutritional science. Prof. Dirk Haller from TUM’s Chair of Nutrition and Immunology and Prof. Ingo Autenrieth of Tübingen University have been named as research coordinators. Prof. Haller’s chair at TUM will receive 864,000 euros and it has also been designated the project coordination center.

Whereas previous studies examined microorganisms in disorders like Crohn’s disease in the large intestine, Prof. Haller is focusing on processes in the small intestine. “We want to identify the factors of non-infectious gut microbes that play a role in the early stages of chronic inflammation of the small intestine. Ultimately, we will be using models to gain an understanding of the initial stages of pathogenesis,” explains Haller.

Bacterial enzyme as an anti-inflammatory for the intestine

Haller has also received research funding under a program of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). This will aid his development and testing of the bacterial enzyme lactocepin as an anti-inflammatory for chronic intestinal inflammation.

Lactocepin is produced from Lactobacillus casei probiotic bacteria, found in the food we eat every day. However, the isolated active substance is significantly more effective. The enzyme first has to be purified and then packaged for transport through the gastro-intestinal tract. Prof. Haller plans to package lactocepin in such a way that it can be clinically used for IBD patients. The Freising-based researcher will have funding of  550,000 euros to achieve this over the next three years.

Gut bacteria and metabolic disorders

The researchers at TUM’s Center of Life and Food Sciences in Weihenstephan will also receive 450,000 euros of EU funding to identify the role of intestinal bacteria in the pathogenesis of metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes. Here also, Prof. Haller’s research will focus on the intestine as the point of interaction. The EU consortium coordinated by Yolanda Sanz from Spain will commence its research in early 2014.

Prof. Dr. Dirk Haller
Technische Universität München
Chair of Nutrition and Immunology
Tel.: +49 861 71-2026

Corporate Communications Center

Technical University of Munich

Article at tum.de

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