The community of bacteria inhabiting our bowels, known as the gut microbiome, affects our health and immune system - in a range of different ways. A new research group at Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin is setting out to study how these bacteria may be affecting blood pressure. The aim of this research is to develop personalized treatments which will improve the function of the gut microbiome in a way that prevents high blood pressure and organ damage. This endeavor is supported by an ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) worth €1.5 million over five years.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, with high blood pressure considered one of its primary risk factors. High blood pressure can cause potentially severe organ damage to organs such as the heart and kidneys. Chronic inflammatory processes and activation of the immune system determine hypertensive organ damage. "Until now, treatments for high blood pressure have failed to adequately address this issue. This is why new forms of treatment are needed," explains Dr. Nicola Wilck of Charité's Medical Department, Division of Nephrology and Internal Intensive Care Medicine on Campus Virchow-Klinikum. He continues: "The gut microbiome represents a promising treatment target because it has an important effect on the immune system and can itself be influenced through diet." Dr. Wilck hopes his ERC Starting Grant will enable him to gain a better understanding of the role gut bacteria play in relation to blood pressure.
As part of the 'HyperBiota' project, Dr. Wilck and his team will explore the way in which gut bacteria and the immune system communicate and identify new treatment options for patients with high blood pressure. Diet will be a major focus of this research, with Dr. Wilck and his team building on existing knowledge of the effects of dietary changes on blood pressure. "Unfortunately, patients often fail to implement general advice on improving their diets," observes Dr. Wilck, adding: "We therefore hope to develop more personalized and targeted dietary recommendations. These will be designed based on the patient's own microbiome and the best available treatment for high blood pressure. By doing so, we aim to reduce both inflammatory processes and organ damage in patients with high blood pressure." As an internal medicine specialist and a researcher at Charité's Experimental and Clinical Research Center and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Dr. Wilck is enrolled in the Clinician Scientist Program run by Charité and the Berlin Institute of Health.
ERC Starting Grants
ERC Starting Grants are awarded by the European Research Council (ERC). A highly competitive selection process ensures these grants are awarded to outstanding early career researchers with a minimum of two years post-doctoral research experience. The funding, which totals approx. €1.5 million, covers a period of five years, enabling successful young researchers to establish their own research groups.