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ERC awards German researcher EUR 2.5 million for liver disease research

A German researcher hopes to develop therapeutic strategies to slow or even reverse the pathological development of fibrous connective tissue in body organs. The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded the scientist EUR 2.5 million to help him meet his research objectives....

A German researcher hopes to develop therapeutic strategies to slow or even reverse the pathological development of fibrous connective tissue in body organs. The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded the scientist EUR 2.5 million to help him meet his research objectives. Professor Dr Detlef Schuppan from Mainz University Medical Center is a specialist in biochemistry and gastroenterology - the study of the digestive system. His work focuses on liver diseases: it includes hepatic cancer, fibrosis, and cirrhosis, the terminal stage of fibrosis. The ERC Advanced Grant will help him investigate the use of quantitative imaging procedures for fibrosis and fibrosis progression that is non-invasive and thus more patient-friendly. He hopes this technique can be used to determine to what extent scar tissue accumulates in the liver, and to measure the amount and activity of the cells involved in scar tissue deposition in patients. Between 0.5 % and 1% of Europeans are affected by end-stage liver fibrosis; we are in need of antifibrotic therapies for treating patients with diagnosed advanced-stage fibrosis. Increasing our knowledge of chronic hepatic diseases is vital: many patients suffering from these conditions experience continuous inflammation in the advanced stages of fibrosis, that can lead to the abnormal growth of connective tissue in numerous organs. Frequently, this results in organ failure. 'Developing a method in which the process of fibrosis progression can be measured in individual patients at risk and for whom the effect of therapies to inhibit fibrosis progression or to induce its reversal can be assessed with high sensitivity and non-invasively is the key to effective treatments for advanced-stage fibrosis,' comments Professor Schuppan. The ERC Advanced Grant is very much focused on collaboration: Professor Schuppan will be working closely with Professor Dr Frank Rosch and Junior Professor Dr Tobias Ross from the Institute of Nuclear Chemistry at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. Early results from pilot studies carried out ahead of the project show that with the aid of small, harmless quantities of radioactively labelled substances, it has been possible to visualise and quantitate in vivo cell surface molecules that occur only on cells active in scar formation; they therefore indicate the activity of fibrosis progression. Professor Schuppan comments: 'These first pilot studies are highly promising and represent an excellent basis for developing a clinically applicable imaging method for diagnosing fibrosis and, more importantly, the dynamics of fibrosis progression. When further refined, this method may permit the clinical efficacy testing of antifibrotic therapies in only a few patients and for short time periods, instead of having to treat several hundreds of patients for [two to three] years, as would be necessary with the current technology. Furthermore, it would allow an individualised dose adjustment of such therapy, according to the therapy response. Ideally, it should be possible to apply our research results to fibrotic diseases of other organs, such as pulmonary fibrosis.' The European Research Council uses ERC Advanced Grants to support established researchers working at the cutting-edge of their disciplines. The aim is to promote groundbreaking fundamental research and applied research in Europe.For more information, please visit:Universitat Mainz:http://www.uni-mainz.de/eng/

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Germany