Jacobs University is a key player in a DFG Priority Program to study the impact of thyroid hormones
Klaudia Brix, Professor of Cell Biology at Jacobs University, is jointly coordinating a new DFG Priority Program to study the transport and impact of thyroid hormones in the human body. She is working together with Dagmar Führer, Director of Endocrinology at the Essen University Hospital, and Heike Biebermann, Lecturer at the Institute of Experimental Pediatric Endocrinology at the Berlin Charité.September 13, 2012
The six-year long Priority Program, starting on October 1, is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) – German Research Foundation with a total of €7.6m. Titled ‘Thyroid Trans Act’, the program combines the research of 18 sub-projects with the aim to substantially improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of thyroid disease.
The thyroid gland produces vital hormones to control metabolism and cell growth in the body, which in turn influence the function of almost all organs. A dysfunctional thyroid producing either too many or too few hormones can lead to serious illness such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular problems or depression.
A third of the German population has thyroid problems
Almost a third of the German adult population is affected by thyroid dysfunction costing the health care system in excess of €2bn a year. However, the exact diagnosis of a dysfunctional thyroid as the underlying reason for an illness remains difficult. Symptoms, which can vary and develop slowly, are often not recognized as thyroid problems.
Diagnosis relies on blood tests measuring the level of TSH (a hormone stimulating the thyroid) or the level of thyroid hormone T4. New studies however have shown that such tests frequently prove insufficient. Despite taking thyroid replacement hormones many patients with a dysfunctional thyroid gland don’t experience substantial improvement in their health conditions. Nonetheless, Levothyroxine – the drug of choice for treatment – is in the Top 10 of prescribed medication worldwide.
“With ‘Thyroid Trans Act’ we will focus on central questions which will determine the path this important health issue will take over the course of the next decade,” says Jacobs professor Klaudia Brix. “These are questions such as: ‘Where can we draw the exact line between a healthy and a dysfunctional thyroid? How do thyroid hormones influence human organ function? Why do conventional treatment methods often remain without the desired effect?’” explains Brix.
The transdisciplinary DFG Priority Program SPP 1629 combines fundamental research in molecular and cell biology with applied medicine involving scientists and doctors from 16 German research institutions and hospitals. Their main focus will be on researching the route that thyroid hormones take from the site of generation to the target sites in the human body.
“We already know that transport proteins and metabolic derivatives of the original thyroid hormones play an important role for hormone transport and impact, “ adds Brix. “Detailed knowledge of the routes these hormones take through the body and of biomarkers, which reflect thyroid function, allows us to draw conclusions about the consequences a fault in these routes might have.”
On the basis of their findings the researchers aim to develop alternative methods of diagnosis, treatment and prevention as well as new drugs for treatment. “Our Priority Program is focused on translational research which means we hope applying results from our laboratory tests in clinical trials within a fairly short time span.”
Participating Research Institutions and Clinics
- Clinic for Endocrinology, Essen University Hospital
- Clinic for Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Essen University Hospital
- Clinic for Endocrinology, University of Duisburg-Essen
- Clinic for Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University of Duisburg-Essen
- Institute of Experimental Pediatric Endocrinology, Universitätsmedizin Berlin Charité
- Institute of Experimental Endocrinology, Universitätsmedizin Berlin Charité
- Department of Ophthalmology, Universitätsmedizin Berlin
- Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology
- Institute for Community Medicine, University Medicine Greifswald
- Clinic and Outpatient Clinic for Internal Medicine B, University Medicine Greifswald
- Leibniz Institute for Age Research, Fritz Lipmann Institute
- Institute of Biochemistry Institut für Biochemie, Medizinische Fakultät, Leipzig University
- Department of Endocrinology and Diabetes, Leipzig University ----
- Department of Nuclear Medicine, Leipzig University
- Department of Nucelar Neuroimaging, Leipzig University
- Clinic for Neurology and Medicine, University of Lübeck
- Clinic of the University of Munich – Grosshadern, Medizinische Klinik und Poliklinik 2, University of Munich
- Clinic of the University of Munich – Innenstadt, Medizinische Klinik und Poliklinik 4, Klinische Biochemie, University of Munich