Collaborative Research Centre extended
Trauma research continues at the highest level

Ulm University

Great success for Ulm's trauma research: The Collaborative Research Centre 1149 'Danger Response, Disturbance Factors and Regenerative Potential after Acute Trauma', approved in 2014, secured funding for another four years. During this period, the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; DFG) supports Ulm's traumatology work with millions of euros in funding. The interdisciplinary research project, which involves 19 clinics and institutes of Ulm University and its Medical Centre, is highly relevant: Every year, around eight million Germans suffer a trauma, causing an estimated €30 billion in health care costs – lost working hours included. Among younger people under the age of 45, traumatic injuries, often sustained in traffic accidents but also caused by war or terrorist attacks, are the most common cause of death.

The overall goal of the now extended Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) is a fundamental understanding of traumatic injuries down to the molecular and cellular level: In the event of trauma, the destruction of tissue and cell barriers triggers an immediate activation of various defence systems. This acute danger response activates regeneration and healing processes in the body of the trauma patient. This process, however, can also lead to massive complications. The reapproved trauma CRC focuses on responses to the most common injury patterns – particularly at the molecular level – and on research into disruptive factors in the healing process. Building on a profound understanding of these processes, the researchers want to develop novel therapies and thus help severely injured people back into life. They are also looking at the complex interplay between physical and psychic injuries.

'The Executive Board and the members of the CRC 1149 are extremely pleased about the extension of the Collaborative Research Centre. This reapproval is the result of our successes over the past four years. This grant also confirms our strategic orientation with the integration of psychological trauma into the CRC and with a high proportion of female scientists in key positions. Trauma research thus remains one of the flagships at Ulm University,' says CRC spokesperson Professor Florian Gebhard, Medical Director of the University Clinic for Trauma, Hand, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, commenting on the positive news.

The CRC scientists have already produced important research results during the first funding phase. They were able, for instance, to identify individual disruptive factors in the trauma response of patients: Conditions such as obesity and diabetes, the lung disease COPD, which occurs more frequently in smokers, as well as vascular diseases, negatively impact physical responses to severe injuries.The CRC is also investigating the regenerative potential of stem cells, which have a positive influence on the immune response in severe injuries and can contribute to faster regeneration. Ulm's researchers have already successfully used mesenchymal stem cells to treat poorly healing bone fractures. Moreover, the scientists have succeeded in uncovering molecular mechanisms of great importance for trauma research.

The research environment at Ulm University and the University Medical Centre is outstanding. Traditionally, trauma research has a high priority in basic science as well as in clinical and translational research. The now extended Collaborative Research Centre is embedded in the Centre for Trauma Research (Zentrum für Traumaforschung; ZTF), which was founded in 2015 and focuses in particular on psychological injuries and their connection with physical trauma. All in all, trauma research in Ulm involves close cooperation between disciplines such as trauma surgery, biochemistry and psychiatry, which, at first glance, seem to be far apart.

Another important element is the close cooperation with the International Graduate School in Molecular Medicine: 'Part of our success is certainly owed to the fact that in the first funding period we were able to enthuse a number of younger scientists, also from the clinical realm, for the field of trauma research and successfully integrate them into the CRC. Their project ideas have significantly contributed to our ability to convince the Grants Committee. With this excellent research team, we are well positioned for the years to come,' said deputy CRC spokesperson Professor Anita Ignatius, Director of the Institute of Orthopaedic Research and Biomechanics.

New priorities that will be investigated additionally during the second CRC funding phase include functional disorders of the heart following trauma, molecular changes in the supporting cells of the brain in various injury patterns and the effects of frequent comorbidities on the stress response. A special focus in Ulm remains the clarification of the interaction between body and psyche after traumatic injuries. These research findings should pave the way for a possible third funding phase, in which the effects of traumatic injuries over the entire life span as well as on future generations will be explored. 'The continuation of the CRC is especially motivating for our clinically working CRC members, who facilitate the transfer of trauma research from the clinic to the laboratory and back to the patient,' emphasises deputy CRC spokesperson Professor Markus Huber-Lang, Director of the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Trauma Immunology.

A total of four Collaborative Research Centres are currently established at Ulm University. University president Professor Michael Weber commented on the success of the trauma researchers: 'The excellent research of the scientists in the Collaborative Research Centre on trauma has once again convinced the reviewers at the German Research Foundation. The continuation of the Trauma CRC is fantastic news for Ulm University and its Medical Centre: research continues at the highest level in this socially critical area. Traumatic injuries can wreak havoc on people's lives at any age, which makes the search for effective therapies for physical and mental injuries a high priority.'




Traumatic injuries, such as after a traffic accident, are the most common cause of death among people under the age of 45 (symbolic images: Heiko Grandel / University Medical Centre Ulm)
Prof. Florian Gebhard, CRC spokesperson and Medical Director of the University Clinic for Trauma, Hand, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (poto: Ulm University Medical Centre)
Prof. Anita Ignatius , CRC spokesperson and Director of the institut of Orthopaedic Research and Biomechanics (photo: Eberhardt/Ulm University)
Prof. Markus Huber-Lang, CRC spokesperson and Director of the Institut of Clinical and Experimental Trauma Immunology (poto: Ulm University Medical Centre/H. Grandel)