New Impetus for Research on Rare Neurological Disorders
The German Government and the State of Baden-Württemberg support scientific institution of the Helmholtz Association

Ulm University

The science minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg Theresia Bauer and Bärbel Brumme-Bothe, head of the department for life sciences at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research have given the start signal for Ulm as a further site of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE).

The symbolic contract signing took place on today’s “Rare Disease Day“. The DZNE thus expands to ten sites. In Ulm, which has long been a center of cutting-edge neurological research, the DZNE will be focusing in particular on rare disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), frontotemporal dementia and Huntington’s. To this end, the DZNE will be cooperating with Ulm University, the University Hospital and the University and Rehabilitation Clinics of Ulm. The partners have been already working together successfully for several years within the framework of a Helmholtz Virtual Institute. The new DZNE site is to develop diagnostic and therapeutic approaches and to translate scientific findings into medical application.

On occasion the official opening of the new DZNE site in Ulm, Theresia Bauer, science minister of Baden-Württemberg said: “The cooperating partners in Ulm are word leaders in the research and clinical treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, frontotemporal dementia, and Huntington’s disease. The partnership with the DZNE will generate a unique combination of ideas and expertise that will be the source of groundbreaking ideas for research and treatment. I am delighted that with the sites in Ulm and Tübingen, there are now two institutions in Baden-Württemberg permanently involved in this extremely important task.”

The German Federal Minister of Education and Research, Johanna Wanka, emphasized: “Rare neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS affect far fewer people than widespread diseases. However, the suffering is not any less. The integration of Ulm into the DZNE is now giving research into these diseases a long-term funding perspective. We are uniting internationally leading cooperation partners in a lasting partnership of excellence. In this way, we are strengthening research into the diagnosis and treatment of ALS and frontotemporal dementia, and improving health care for patients.”

The decision to establish the new site grew from the years of cooperation between the DZNE and experts in Ulm. Already in January 2013, Ulm became part of a virtual institute funded by the Helmholtz Association. Recently, this institution was evaluated excellently by scientific review. This is because Ulm University, the university hospital, and the RKU have a unique know-how in rare neurological diseases such as ALS, frontotemporal dementia (FTD), and Huntington's. This expertise extends from fundamental research to highly specialized patient care.

Moreover, with its clinical study center and patients registers for ALS and Huntington’s, Ulm offers an outstanding infrastructure for medical research. In the coming years, the number of DZNE staff in Ulm will increase to up to 50. This will include scientists already working in Ulm. The speaker for the new site will be the Ulm-based neurologist and university professor Albert Ludolph. The DZNE staff will initially use existing premises at Ulm University. In the long term, a separate research building is to be constructed. From 2021, following a transitional phase, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the state of Baden-Württemberg will jointly fund the DZNE site in Ulm with up to three million Euros per year. The DZNE's partners in Ulm (the university, the university hospital, and the Faculty of Medicine) will also make a substantial contribution to the new research facility amounting to several million.

Goal: innovative diagnostic and treatment methods

The DZNE site in Ulm will focus on translational research – i.e. on translating scientific findings into clinical applications as quickly as possible so that patients can benefit.

Optimum conditions for this will arise by integrating Ulm into the DZNE’s nationwide clinical network, which conducts multi centric studies. As these studies are not limited in geographical scope, an extensive cohort of participants can be integrated, thus making results particularly significant in statistical terms. Such studies can therefore make major contributions to the development of new diagnostic and treatment methods.

Specifically, one of the focal points of the Ulm DZNE experts will be research on biomarkers. These biological hallmarks facilitate the early recognition of a disease and an evaluation of how it will progress. Biomarkers are therefore central to therapy. Furthermore, the researchers will also be investigating treatment concepts aimed at gene defects.

A nationwide research institution

Founded in 2009, the DZNE has around 1,100 employees at its other sites in Berlin, Bonn, Dresden, Göttingen, Magdeburg, Munich, Rostock/Greifswald, Tübingen, and Witten. It pursues an interdisciplinary research strategy that aims to translate scientific findings into medical applications as quickly as possible and find novel approaches for prevention, early recognition, and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Scientists from different sites and disciplines all work together to this end. The DZNE is a member of the Helmholtz Association. It is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the state of Baden-Württemberg, and other federal states that are home to DZNE sites.

Participants of the inauguration. Source: Carola Gietzen
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) causes the death of motoneurons (Image: RKU Ulm)