Third funding period for Leukemia Collaborative Research Center:
DFG supports Ulm cancer research with 11 million Euros

Ulm University

Great success for cancer research at Ulm University: The Leukemia Collaborative Research Center (SFB 1074) will continue to be funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG – Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) with around 11 million Euros over the next 4 years. The highly successful CRC "Experimental Models and Clinical Translation in Leukemia" has therefore reached the maximum funding period. The main goals of the cancer researchers,  led by CRC Coordinating Principal Investigator Professor Hartmut Döhner, are a deeper understanding of the cellular and molecular basis of leukemia development and new approaches to personalized blood cancer therapy.
In the Leukemia Collaborative Research Center, senior and young researchers investigate the causes of the development of various forms of blood cancer in a total of 15 sub-projects and two central projects. In the past two funding periods, the scientists from various departments and institutes of Ulm University and Ulm University Medical Centre have gained significant new insights: they were able, for example, to find genetic landscapes for the common forms of leukemia "acute myeloid leukemia" and "chronic lymphocytic leukemia" and create a "mutation map". This enables to determine a more precise prognosis for such leukemia patients. “Scientists at the CRC have not only played a leading or significant role in decoding genetic changes. We also make important contributions in the development of innovative, molecularly targeted drugs and new antibodies,” emphasizes Professor Hartmut Döhner, Coordinating Principal Investigator of the Collaborative Research Center and Medical Director of the Department of Internal Medicine III at Ulm University Medical Centre. Results of this research have been published in high-ranking journals such as the "New England Journal of Medicine", "Nature" or "Science". Hartmut Döhner, who is also the Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center Ulm (CCCU), is one of the most cited leukemia researchers worldwide.

Excellent conditions for cancer researchers at the Ulm location
The conditions for leukemia research at the Ulm location are excellent. The CRC scientists have access to numerous blood and bone marrow samples from patients who have been treated with new drugs in the course of clinical studies. The leukemia biobank of Ulm University Medical Center is even one of the largest in the world. “The continued funding of our CRC is proof of our outstanding research achievements, which an international panel of experts has once again attested to. Researching the cellular and molecular basis of leukemia development, refining the diagnostic methods as well as developing new medications for a personalized treatment of leukemia patients - that is our mission,” summarizes Professor Döhner. Patients of the Comprehensive Cancer Center Ulm of the University Medical Centre and the Medical Faculty often directly benefit from the results of the Collaborative Research Center. In 2019, the CCCU was once again recognized by the German Cancer Aid as an Oncological Center of Excellence.
One of the goals of the third funding period is to find out why even new, molecularly targeted drugs often no longer respond after different treatment periods: Leukemias develop mechanisms of resistance to these substances. For this purpose, new technologies will also be used in the laboratory, such as sequencing at the leukemia single cell level.
For the first time, external research groups can be included in the new funding period in the Leukemia Collaborative Research Center. "We can further strengthen the Collaborative Research Center with two top-class scientists from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg as well as two former Ulm scientists, who have meanwhile been appointed to professorships at Charité University Medicine in Berlin," says Professor Klaus-Michael Debatin, deputy CRC spokesman and Medical Director of the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Ulm University Medical Centre. Professor Debatin is considered a leading expert in childhood leukemia.

Top-class researchers pool their expertise at CRC 1074
Overall, the Collaborative Research Center bundles the expertise of renowned scientists from various disciplines: “With the targeted appointment of professors and young researchers, we have been able to further strengthen leukemia research in recent years. On the other hand, a total of six Principal Investigators from the previous funding period have received calls for renowned professorships or positions in Germany, Spain and Canada - an indication of the outstanding quality of the CRC,” says Professor Thomas Wirth, Dean of the Medical Faculty.

Research of the hematopoietic system and especially of leukemia diseases has a long tradition in Ulm, going back to the founding of the University. "The renewed funding of the CRC extends this success story and builds the top position of Ulm cancer medicine. New findings from the CRC will help to further improve the cure for patients with leukemia,” emphasizes Professor Michael Weber, President of Ulm University. The Chief Medical Director and Chairman of the Executive Board of Ulm University Medical Centre, Professor Udo X. Kaisers, is also pleased with the great success for Ulm University Medicine: “The internationally renowned scientists at the CRC transfer basic research into clinical research and thus develop new treatment options. The fact that this important research is now being funded again not only strengthens Ulm University Medical Centre, it also directly benefits our patients.”

Text: Department of Internal Medicine III, M. Zimmerman/ab

Media contact: Annika Bingmann

Prof. Hartmut Döhner
Prof. Hartmut Döhner is the spokesperson of the now extended Leukemia Collaborative Research Center and Medical Director of the Department of Internal Medicine III at Ulm University Medical Center (Photo: Ulm University Medical Centre)
Prof. Klaus-Michael Debatin
Prof. Klaus-Michael Debatin is the Medical Director of the Department of Paediatrics and Youth Medicine at Ulm University Medical Center and deputy spokesperson of the CRC (Photo: Ulm University Medical Centre)
Next Generation Sequencing
The cancer researchers use advanced technologies such as next generation sequencing in the laboratory (Photo: Heiko Grandel)