Trauma research in Ulm interlinks fundamental and point-of-care research

Traffic accidents, terror attacks and acts of violence have one thing in common: victims with serious injuries. The medical treatment of patients with multiple bone fractures and severely injured organs and tissues is highly complex and demanding. Physical trauma is characterised by multifaceted interactions between injured tissue, immune system, circulation and psyche. Uncontrolled inflammatory reactions in the entire body that may occur as a response to injury frequently lead to multiple organ failure and death. Trauma is the most common cause of death in people under 45 years after all. Associated annual health costs amount to around 30 billion euros and more - including the costs of absence from work.


Understanding, curing and preventing severe injuries

For years, scientists in Ulm have been investigating relentlessly the highly complex interactive processes that make polytrauma so dangerous. The interdisciplinary collaboration of a broad range of trauma specialists both in fundamental research and practice is a great recipe for lasting success in treatment and science equally. Researchers and physicians at the University and the University Medical Centre work closely with doctors at the military hospital in Ulm (BWK) and other medical partner institutions in the region, including the Rehabilitation Hospital (RKU) and the Red Cross Blood Donor Service. The chain of medical care in Ulm thus covers everything from immediate emergency treatment over surgical, medical and psychological trauma treatment to rehabilitation.

Research at the intersection between physical and psychological trauma

The Center for Trauma Research (ZTF) in Ulm was founded in December 2015. This transdisciplinary research centre is not only one-of-a-kind in Germany but also leading the way internationally. Physicians and fundamental researchers work together at the intersection between physical and psychological trauma towards uncovering the molecular interactions between mental and physical injuries. Physical trauma is frequently accompanied by psychological trauma, and emotional distress is known to affect the immune and endocrine system and thus wound healing.

The highly successful Collaborative Research Centre SFB 1149 'Danger Response, Disturbance Factors and Regenerative Potential after Acute Trauma' has laid the scientific foundation for the establishment of the Trauma Center in Ulm. The SFB was launched in 2015 and has received 11.2 million euros funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) to this date. The clinical research group KFO 200 'Inflammatory Response after Musculoskeletal Trauma', also funded by the DFG, contributed important groundwork to the work of the Trauma Center as well.

Civil-military cooperation for 'regenerative medicine'

Traffic, sports and work accidents are among the most common causes of traumatic injuries in Germany. Violent disputes, military missions and terror attacks are other scenarios where people get harmed and sometimes sustain life-threatening injuries. Victims are often members of the military force who sustain severe injuries in armed conflicts. A civil-military collaborative project for regenerative medicine was established in 2014, where Ulm University Medicine trauma experts research together with colleagues and doctors at the military hospital (BWK) how to improve acute treatment of and recovery from such injuries. The project benefits civil and military patients equally and has been supported by the Medical Office of the German Armed Forces with hitherto 1.6 million euros. 

Another focus of the Center for Trauma Research (ZTF) is the investigation and treatment of psychological trauma.

Helping to understand, treat and avoid psychotrauma

When war refugees, victims of violence or abused children are affected by their injuries and experiences to such an extent that they are no longer able to lead normal lives, it is highly likely that they are suffering from psychological trauma. Such psychological injuries often result in post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses. At Ulm University, psychologists, psychiatrists and molecular biologists conduct research into the causes and effects of psychotraumata. The main focus of their work evolves around questions regarding therapy and prevention. However, the researchers take great interest in the biomolecular connections in the development of psychotraumatic injuries as well.

Help for traumatised children and adolescents

One of the greatest concerns in this context is the best possible care for psychologically traumatised children and young people. The Competence Centre for Child Protection in Medicine in Baden-Württemberg and the Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry/Psychotherapy are key players in this field. The institute's Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic provides help to young people suffering from mental illness. A specialised Trauma Outpatient Clinic affiliated to the Training Centre for Behavioural Therapy cares especially for children and adolescents.



German Trauma Foundation

The German Trauma Foundation was founded in Ulm in 2015 and is dedicated to the improvement of the care for trauma patients. The Foundation supports projects that raise the general understanding of trauma and promote the exchange of experiences between institutions and those actively involved in trauma research and treatment. A central effort is the prevention and treatment of the consequences of psychological and physical trauma.

It is no coincidence that the German Trauma Foundation is based in Ulm. Trauma research has a long-standing tradition in Ulm. This fairly new discipline builds on trauma surgery, which has been part of the University Medicine in Ulm since the University's inauguration in 1967. Methods and instruments developed in Ulm are used around the world in the treatment of trauma patients, from the emergency suitcase to the four-colour emergency watch.