Neurodegenerative diseases, colorectal cancer and chronic heart insufficiency are among the topics to be addressed by six new Clinical Research Units (CRUs) set up this month by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinshaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), the central public funding body for research in Germany.

As is a hallmark of the Foundation’s CRU programme, basic research, applied research and clinical practice will be closely interwined in the new projects launched at universities or university hospitals across Germany. Clinical Research Units are expected to generate findings that could not have been achieved with the support available under the DFG’s Individual Grants or Priority Programmes.

The six new units and research projects are as follows:

- Host: Charité University Hospital Berlin. Subject: examining the circumstances under which muscular atrophy occurs, including the role of disease and lack of exercise. More specifically, the research team led by Dr Simon Spuler will investigate the significance of certain proteins, such as myostatin and dysferlin, as well as the evolution of stem cells into muscle cells.

- Host: Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University, Bonn: Subject: immune system processes that cause the type of brain damage characteristic of multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers will draw together the latest insights into these disorders, with the aim of understanding better the interaction between neurodegeneration and inflammatory diseases and laying the foundation for potential new therapies.

- Host: Georg-August University, Göttingen. Subject: investigating the processes behind colorectal cancer, finding suitable biomarkers for the disease and determining the most useful therapy for individual patients. Colorectal cancer is the second most lethal cancer in Germany. Treatment usually consists of surgery to remove the cancerous part of the colon. While additional chemoradiotherapy has recently shown promise in a number of rectal cancer patients, some tumours do not respond to this treatment.

- Host: Saarland University Hospital, Homburg. Subject: the research team headed by Dr Ulrich Laufs will look at the mechanisms underlying chronic heart insufficiency. This is a growing problem in industrialised countries, where overeating and inactivity push up the risk of heart disease. The Homburg CRU will study the molecular background of atrial fibrillation – often a harbinger of cardiac insufficiency – and the use of relevant medicines.

- Host: University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein, Campus Lübeck. Subject: the causes of Wegener’s granulomatosis, an autoimmune disease affecting organs such as the respiratory tract and normally requiring long-term treatment of associated inflammation. A key focus of the project will be early diagnosis of the condition.

- Host: Hospital of Johannes-Gutenberg-University, Mainz. Subject: strategies for optimising immune response in stem cell transplantation. When blood-forming stem cells are transplanted to fight disorders of the circulatory or lymphatic systems, the grafted immune system acts to fight off infectious agents and blood cancer cells. However, it can also turn on the recipient and trigger graft-versus-host disease.

In keeping with the other 35 Clinical Research Units currently funded by the DGF, the host universities have to match the funding provided by the Foundation for their CRU and to create the new post of a professor to head up the unit.

Clinical Research Units are just one of a wide range of support programmes operated by the DFG, including research grants, collaborative research centres, fellowships and a joint funding initiative for clinical trials with the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).