Start of collaborative research project within the framework of the Brandenburg Health Campus

Scientists at several Brandenburg research institutions have started a collaborative research project on “consequences of age-associated cell and organ functions” to explore the causes of diseases occurring prevalently in older people like cancer or cardiovascular disorders, and to develop adequate treatment options.

Continuing increase in life expectancy is an essential achievement but at the same time faces society with immense challenges in health care. The Berlin-Brandenburg Statistics Office expects the proportion of people over 65 in the Brandenburg population to rise by 43% until 2040. As age increases, so does the occurrence of vascular diseases, tumours, and bone and joint diseases. In 2015 the Brandenburg parliament decided to progressively establish a Brandenburg Health Campus in response to this trend, with the aim to analyse issues around age-related medicine and health and to promote and integrate university research and education in the field of medical and health research. The collaborative research project on “consequences of age-associated cell and organ functions” has been selected for funding in a competitive process and will receive a total of 2.49 million euros from the Brandenburg Ministry of Science, Research and Cultural Affairs over the next two years.

Partners of the Brandenburg Medical School (MHB): Brandenburg University of Technology (BTU) Cottbus-Senftenberg, University of Potsdam, Wildau Technical University of Applied Sciences, IZI-BB at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology, International Laboratory for Biotechnology and Consulting, and Institute for Biomaterials Research at the Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht (HZG). In this way the project integrates a wide range of specialist skills to explore age-adequate therapies, e.g. in the form of optimized medication or implants. Documented age-dependent interactions between tissue and medication as well as implants clearly suggest knowledge requirements in terms of age-appropriate therapies.

A subproject explores ways to use older patients’ own cartilage cells as an alternative to the implantation of artificial joints as a new therapeutic option for joint disorders. Innovative biomaterials are to support the growth of cartilage cells and new cartilage tissue in this process. But in many fields basic knowledge is still needed in order to take sufficient account of age-related changes in the choice of therapies and diagnostic procedures. Another subproject searches for new blood parameters to establish age-appropriate diagnoses of, for example, vascular diseases. The project partners rely on interdisciplinary teams, collaboration between various locations and jointly used infrastructure. The compilation of medical data will play an important role in the analysis of reference values in people over 70, e.g. in the study of age-related blood count changes in healthy persons. Results of the study may help to better distinguish between healthy ageing and diseases.

The participation of MHB as the clinical partner in the collaborative project ensures that newly researched therapy concepts will be made immediately available to patients in Brandenburg. Prof. P. Markus Decker (MHB chair of internal medicine, haematology and oncology, and clinic director at Städtisches Klinikum Brandenburg) points out that rapid therapeutic advancements primarily have patients below 70 as a basis: “But what patients really need are not a maximum of therapy options. They need a therapy which helps in their specific case. We expect conclusive findings to apply efficient therapies to elder and old patients and avoid inefficient ones in advance.”

Prof. Andreas Lendlein, director of the HZG Institute for Biomaterials Research, is the spokesman of the collaborative project. He underlines the wide range of disciplines involved and expects exciting and future-oriented research activities which will help to meet the targets of the health master plan for the region and also improve the international visibility of the Brandenburg Health Campus: “The integration of interdisciplinary basic research and clinical application research constitutes the basis for age-appropriate, efficient, gentle and individualized therapies.”