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.