Three European collaborative projects and one comprehensive infrastructure project, all of which are to be led by researchers from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH), have been given the go-ahead by the EU Commission. Charité researchers will also be involved in two further projects which are due to be launched. The new Charité-led projects will address mental health issues, an innovative cell therapy, prognosis after stroke, and virtual models of the brain. Charité will receive appropriately € 7 million in funding for this research. The EU’s framework program for research and innovation is the largest single-source funding program in the world.
Health research discoveries enable the development of innovative solutions and help to create and maintain research infrastructures of the highest standard. These are the objectives pursued by the ‘Health Cluster’ of the Horizon Europe framework program for research. Working alongside their European partners, the successful researchers will now be able to advance their ideas over the next four to five years. “This is a very good start within the new Horizon Europe funding program,” says the Dean of Charité, Prof. Dr. Axel Radlach Pries. He continues: “Out of a total of 13 Germany-led proposals recommended for funding, three are from Charité. We will continue to strive towards ensuring that Charité retains its position among the 20 best European institutions within the Health Cluster.” Thanks to its performance, Charité remains at the top of the rankings of German universities competing in this funding stream.
The new EU consortia to be led by Charité are:
environMENTAL: Reducing the impact of major environmental challenges on mental health
Climate change, urbanization and psychosocial stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are among the greatest environmental challenges facing the world today. A team of researchers led by Prof. Dr. Gunter Schumann, who is Head of the Centre for Population Neuroscience and Stratified Medicine (PONS) at Charité’s Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy and at Fudan University Shanghai, will now be studying the long-term impact of these factors on brain health. The aim of this research is to develop interventions aimed at early treatment or prevention. The researchers will use data from more than one million European citizens and patients, including imaging data from large behavioral neuroimaging cohorts, to help them uncover brain mechanisms which are linked to environmental adversity, and which lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress and substance abuse. Population and patient data will then be combined with environmental data, remote-sensing data, and data from climate models and digital health applications to create a complex model of the impact of environmental challenges on processing within the brain. Comprehensive omics analyses, 3D brain organoids and virtual brain simulations will help to identify the underlying molecular mechanisms. The researchers hope that a better understanding of the genetic and environmental factors which are responsible for specific disease mechanisms will help them to estimate individual risk levels. In order to facilitate the treatment of environmentally related mental illnesses, the researchers will aim to identify compounds capable of targeting disease-specific causal mechanisms, in addition to employing digital health solutions which use virtual reality.
Duration: 5 years, starting 1 June 2022
Total funding: approximately € 9 million
geneTIGA: Developing a specific cell therapy for IgA nephropathy, a type of chronic kidney disease
There has been a significant increase in the incidence of chronic kidney disorders which are caused by unwanted immune responses. In addition to placing a burden on the individual patient, these disorders carry an increasing burden for society and for our health care system. IgA nephropathy (IgAN) is a type of kidney disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the glomeruli, the kidney’s filtering units, resulting in a progressive deterioration in kidney function. The efficacy of current treatment options is limited, partly because they are incapable of restoring a balanced immune response over the long term. Prof. Dr. Petra Reinke is a founding director of the Berlin Center for Advanced Therapies (BeCAT) and Head of the ‘Cell Therapy and Personalized Immunosuppression’ research group at the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH). As project lead of this new collaborative endeavor Prof. Reinke aims to develop a safe and effective cell therapy based on the targeted modification (gene editing) of a group of immune cells known as T cells. In addition to testing three molecular biology technologies, the researchers are aiming to develop new safety evaluation standards. Ultimately, they hope to produce a potential candidate for use in specific cell therapy, a ‘living drug’, which will then be tested for use as a one-off treatment for IgAN and similar disorders. The specific treatment produced may also be effective in treating disorders with similar underlying disease mechanisms, and may accelerate the development of the next generation of gene and cell products. The consortium also bundles expertise from research groups at ETH (Swiss) and Oxford University (UK), and involves international patient associations.
Duration: 4 years, starting 1 July 2022
Total funding: approximately € 5.7 million
VALIDATE: Artificial intelligence helps to improve the prognosis and treatment of patients with acute stroke
We are currently observing a significant increase in the use of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) in medicine. In addition to enabling physicians to make prognoses about disease development, ML and AI approaches support clinical decision-making: for instance, by helping clinicians identify which treatment is best for a specific patient. Not only can the use of appropriate ML and AI tools lead to improved treatment outcomes, but these tools also optimize the use and allocation of existing resources. The Charité Lab for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine consists of an interdisciplinary team of machine learning scientists and engineers, physicians, and researchers. Led by Dr. Dietmar Frey, the team focuses on the development and application of AI-based methods in medicine. The researchers use clinical data and imaging data, as well as combinations of the two, in addition to cross-sectional health insurance data. The recently launched VALIDATE project will develop, test and validate AI-based prognostic tools for use in acute stroke care. The research is based on state-of-the-art ML methods such as neural networks and complex decision-making algorithms. The researchers expect that, in patients with acute stroke, treatment decisions which are based on the AI-based data analytics will be safer, faster and more accurate, and will lead to improved outcomes for patients in the clinical setting. The European consortium comprises clinical partner institutions with relevant experience, ML scientists and experts specializing in the development of trustworthy AI applications. An additional consortium partner is the Stroke Alliance for Europe (SAFE) to represent the patient perspective.
Duration: 4 years, starting 1 May 2022
Total funding: approximately € 5.9 million
Over the next five years, Charité will be involved in two further European research consortia:
4DPicture: The aim of the project, which is led by the Erasmus University Medical Center (Erasmus MC) in Rotterdam, is to make data-based decision-support tools an integral part of cancer patient pathways, transforming the way in which patients are supported in making complex treatment choices. The researchers will use ‘Metro Mapping’: a service design method which enables care providers and cancer patients to take an active role in the decision-making process surrounding treatment options. Metro Mapping aims to improve health outcomes by enabling decisions to be based on better information and more closely targeted to the individual patient. Dr. Maria Margarete Karsten of Charité’s Department of Gynecology on Campus Charité Mitte is heading the Berlin-based team tasked with developing and testing the new method.
psychSTRATA: Led by the University of Münster, the project strives to improve the treatment of patients with depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The consortium brings together 25 research institutions from 12 European countries. Covering a range of disciplines, they will work together to collect and analyze large quantities of biological data as well as clinical and digital data. Under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Stephan Ripke, Charité’s Laboratory for Statistical Genetics will be responsible for processing and analyzing genomic profiles.
Researchers from the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH) and Charité will furthermore be responsible for coordinating a comprehensive European infrastructure project:
eBRAIN-Health: Research platform for the modeling and simulation of complex neurobiological processes
The eBRAIN-Health project is led by BIH Johanna Quandt Professor of Brain Simulation Prof. Dr. Petra Ritter, who is also Head of the Brain Simulation research group at the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH) and Head of Charité’s Department of Neurology and Experimental Neurology. The project aims to develop a decentralized, data protection-compliant research platform capable of simulating some of the brain’s complex neurobiological phenomena. As part of the project, researchers will collate an array of different types of information, including data from PET and MRI scans, EEG tests, behavioral studies and lifestyle surveys, as well as clinical data from thousands of patients and healthy controls. These will be combined with biological information from knowledge databases and made available for research purposes. The resultant digital ‘brain twins’ will enable large numbers of researchers to conduct innovative research within a powerful digital infrastructure. Thanks to its transparent analytical pipelines, the new research infrastructure will also help to promote reproducible research. Furthermore, complex, personalized brain simulations which take into account large quantities of data may be able to provide a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying brain function and disorders. Virtual brain modeling may also improve diagnostics and disease prediction, in addition to enabling the optimization of treatment plans. The project consortium comprises 20 partners and operates in cooperation with EBRAINS AISBL, the coordinating entity of the EU-funded flagship ‘Human Brain Project’.
Duration: 4 years, starting 1 July 2022
Total funding: approximately € 13 million
‘Horizon Europe’, the 9th EU framework program for research and innovation, is the largest single-source funding program of its kind in the world. The program aims to build both a knowledge- and innovation-based society and a competitive economy, in addition to helping to promote sustainable development. The framework program helps to implement European Commission guidelines, and plays a key role in delivering on the goals of the digital and green transitions. Horizon Europe provides a strong sense of continuity from its predecessor, Horizon 2020. One new element, however, is the establishment of the European Innovation Council (EIC) as a formal entity, with the aim of funding innovations which create new markets. Further new elements include the introduction of a ‘strategic planning process’ and ‘missions’.
Department of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, Campus Charité Mitte, Population Neuroscience (PONS)
Charité Lab for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine
Berlin Center for Advanced Therapies (BeCAT)
BIH Research Group Brain Simulation l Petra Ritter
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Tel: +49 30 450 570 400