A milestone for Ulm University Medical Center and for advancing adolescent health: As announced by Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek, Ulm will become one of seven locations of the newly created German Center for Child and Adolescent Health (DZKJ). The research conducted at the Ulm Child Health (UCH) site focuses on the development of the body’s systems that are associated with common diseases in childhood and adolescence and are of fundamental importance for a healthy adult life. Scientists from Ulm University Medical Center’s Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the Medical Faculty and university researchers from the disciplines of psychology, natural sciences and computer science pool their knowledge here.
Improving the health and well-being of adolescents is the primary aim of the new German Center for Child and Adolescent Health with extensive research on child development and knowledge transfer. Ulm University Medical Center was one of the recipients of the Center’s seven sites in the competitive selection process. “It is impossible to overstate this success. In Ulm, we intend to link basic and applied research, which will benefit young patients both immediately and later in their lives. This package, put together by the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in collaboration with colleagues from various disciplines, succeeded in convincing the review panel,” emphasises Ulm site coordinator Professor Klaus-Michael Debatin, Director of the University’s Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
With its Ulm Child Health facility, Ulm University and University Medical Center are part of the new multi-site Center for Child and Adolescent Health, which has just seven locations in Germany. Based on the activities of the previously established German Centers for Health Research, the DZKJ’s tasks range from basic research on development in childhood and adolescence and clinical studies to prevention programmes. Professor Martin Wabitsch, deputy coordinator of the Ulm site, describes the current situation in the German healthcare system, “The special aspects of child and adolescent development in particular are often not sufficiently taken into account in research and healthcare. This also applies to established diagnostic and treatment procedures. Yet the groundwork for a healthy life is laid in childhood and adolescence.” With the aim of comprehensively optimising the healthcare of adolescents, the best national research locations will pool their expertise in future in the German Center for Child and Adolescent Health.
Ulm’s concept focuses on key components of child and adolescent health and their development: the endocrine system and metabolism, the immune system and the body’s defences, and mental health.
The research interests already begin with development in the womb and in early childhood. The specific research priorities of the Ulm consortium range from diseases of the immune system with its significance for autoimmune diseases and carcinogenesis to cell therapy approaches and research and treatment of metabolic disorders and obesity – which is, after all, one of the biggest health problems of German adolescents today. Digital interventions or special smartphone apps could help in the management of existing diseases, so experts from the fields of digital health promotion, data science, and human-machine interaction are also part of the Ulm site. Other research areas include mental illnesses as immune-metabolic disorders, ethical aspects and nationally renowned expertise in the interdisciplinary field of epigenetics.
The Ulm consortium will benefit from extensive national registries at the site, which compile patient data on diabetes or morbid obesity, for example. In addition, there are large biobanks and cohort studies – above all two long-term surveys from birth to adulthood – as well as prevention studies in nurseries and schools. A detailed research programme for the German Center for Child and Adolescent Health site is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year in collaboration with the other sites. Parent representatives are also involved in the development of this concept and the subsequent communication. “The selection of the Ulm Child Health site is an honour for the interdisciplinary researchers involved and it also attests to the strength of Ulm University Medicine in this area,” emphasizes Professor Thomas Wirth, Dean of the Medical Faculty.
Another success: Participation in the German Center for Mental Health
In addition to announcing the new DZKJ site, Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek had more positive news for Ulm University. Together with the lead Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim and colleagues in Heidelberg, researchers in Ulm are contributing to the establishment of the new German Center for Mental Health (DZP). The Mannheim site focuses on social interaction during particularly relevant periods, especially in early trauma or adolescence. “Being involved in no less than two national centers in the field of health research - in one case even as a complete site – is a huge success for Ulm University. Another stroke of luck is the fact that there is significant overlap in terms of staff and research topics, so that future research projects will be mutually beneficial,” explains University President Professor Michael Weber. In addition to the close collaboration between the DZKJ sites, there will also be a close exchange with the other German Centers for Health Research. After all, these initiatives are pursuing the common goal of improving the health of children and adolescents at all stages of development.
Background on the German Center for Child and Adolescent Health
The new German Center for Child and Adolescent Health (DZKJ) is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The research priorities of the seven sites range from disease development to prevention, diagnosis and therapy research. In addition, there are broader issues such as the interrelationships between mental and physical illnesses. Children and adolescents are viewed in their entirety in their respective life phases across all locations. In general, the DZKJ is to be established in a way that complements the existing German Centers for Health Research. In particular, close cooperation is intended in the areas of diabetes, cancer and lung research. A joint research platform between the DZKJ and the German Center for Mental Health, which will involve Ulm researchers, is planned as well. The total funding of the seven DZKJ sites is expected to amount to up to 30 million euros annually.
Text and mediacontact: Annika Bingmann