Main Research Focus Areas of the Faculty
The Faculty of Medicine focuses its activities on scientific topics that deal with problems of great social relevance.
Criteria are defined to ensure the quality of the research focus:
- International visibility
- Third-party funding in the sense of DFG Coordinated Programmes, e.g. Collaborative Research Centres (SFBs), Research Units (FOR) or Clinical Research Units (KFOs)
- an interdisciplinary approach
- Promotional concepts of junior research
Based on these criteria, the Faculty of Medicine currently has three established three Research Focus Areas:
Detailed Information on the major Research Areas
Tumor Biology, Infection and Immunity
The development of cancers and infectious diseases are frequently based on similar molecular mechanisms. Chronic inflammations, for example, are among the potential drivers of cancer. On the other hand, the immune system has an essential control function in tumor diseases and infections. Notably, the improved understanding of adaptive and innate immunity has a high impact on the therapy of both diseases. Based on the common complex molecular interactions, the research topic has developed highly interactive and synergetic research programs, which have become a major research focus of the Faculty of Medicine over the last ten years.
Research in cancer biology and therapy has expanded from innovative clinical research to the development of targeted approaches where patients receive specific treatments adapted to their genotype. The close integration of preclinical and clinical research follows a clearly defined strategy ranging from fundamental genetic and cell biological discovery to preclinical testing and further validation in practice-altering clinical trials. The research activities within this focus area were supported by substantial third-party funding.
In the field of infection and immunology, research ranges from the elucidation of basic molecular mechanisms of virulence and defence via pathomechanisms at the host organism level to the development of antimicrobial and immunomodulatory therapy approaches as well as new vaccines and antibody-based therapies against multi-resistant infectious agents. Synergies with oncology arise, for example, from an understanding of the evolution of drug resistance, the development of antibody diversity or the co-evolution of pathogens and their host organisms. Translational infection research in FS1 receives essential funding from the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF).
The research programs of the research topic are currently supported by various collaborative research consortia: DFG-funded consortia such as the SFB 670 (Cell Autonomous Immunity), the KFO 286 on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), BMBF-funded consortia (eMED, MILES-eMED), German Cancer Aid-funded consortia (KoSAR Competence Network Sarcomas), National Network for Genomic Medicine (nNGM Lung Cancer), the German Consortium for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (GC-HBOC), the EU-funded Horizon 2020 Consortium (BRIDGES), the EU Regional Development Fund (EMODI) and the State of NRW through the PerMed Initiative NEGECA. In addition, the research focus of the state of NRW includes junior research groups, a DKH-funded Max Eder junior research group, two Lichtenberg professorships of the Volkswagen Foundation and a Mildred Scheel professorship.
Homeostatic principles in metabolism and tissue regeneration
The focus area "Homeostatic principles in metabolism and tissue regeneration" aims to decipher the molecular principles that control metabolic signalling and cellular interactions in tissue maintenance, repair and aging.
Speakers: Prof. Dr. C. Niessen, Prof. Dr. J. Brüning
The primary goal of this focus area is to understand the genetic, molecular and cellular interactions, signal transduction networks and metabolic control processes of tissue and organ homeostasis and to clarify how changes in signalling pathways lead to age-related degenerative and metabolic diseases. Metabolic and associated degenerative diseases currently affect 30% of the German population and pose critical challenges socio-economically for clinical care. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the increased prevalence of obesity and its associated diseases will lead to a decrease in average life expectancy for the first time in more than a century from 2030 onwards. In the meantime, it is undisputed that the higher proportion of older people in the population has massively increased the importance of age-associated diseases, e.g. wound healing disorders.
The aim of the research focus is to develop innovative strategies for the prevention, diagnosis and therapy of metabolic and degenerative diseases and their associated secondary diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, Alzheimer's disease as well as skin, cardiovascular and kidney diseases based on the clarification of newly identified pathomechanisms.
The scientists of the focus area are internationally outstanding. For this reason, the research consortium is one of the world's leading working groups in the field of CNS-dependent regulation of metabolism. This is verified by high-ranking publications as well as numerous national and international awards. An internationally outstanding focus has developed from three working groups from dermatology, CECAD and ZMMK together with several junior groups that have been explicitly recruited. Between the dermatology clinic, the CECAD and the MPI for Biology of Ageing, it was possible to develop a completely new understanding of signalings which control the balance between epidermal differentiation and regeneration.
The development of the focus area is mainly based on the close synergy of the two Max Planck Institutes for Biology of Ageing and for Metabolism Research, that are located on the campus of the Faculty of Medicine and in particular with various working groups of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. Together with the systematic improvements of the infrastructure and the strategic vocations in the Faculty of Medicine, these cooperations have significantly advanced the scientific establishment and continuous expansion of this research focus over the past 10 years.
The focus area "Neuromodulation" investigates the function and dysfunction of synapses, neurons and neuronal networks in order to develop a comprehensive molecular and system-based understanding of the fundamentals of neurological and psychiatric diseases.
Speakers: Prof. Dr. V. Visser-Vandewalle
The close structural and personnel integration of the neuroscientific working groups of the Faculty of Medicine with the working groups of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and with the local MPI for Biology of Ageing. The Helmholtz Centres Research Centre Jülich (FZJ) and German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) provide an excellent framework for internationally active, molecular and systemic physiological basic neuroscientific research on clinically relevant topics. Conversely, scientists in the Neuromodulation field contribute significantly to sub-programs of health research at the DZNE, to the FZJ's key technology program "Decoding the Human Brain", and to work at the MPI for Metabolism Research and for the Biology of Ageing, which is also reflected in the joint appointments of the aforementioned institutions.
The cooperation with the strong clinical neurosciences of the University Hospital Cologne as nationally and internationally outstanding clinical partners in the fields of neurodegenerative diseases (dementia, neurological movement disorders) and stroke, neuroimmunological and neurooncological diseases, as well as functional neurosurgery and stereotaxy not only allows fundamental neuroscientific research but also translational clinical research at the highest level. The implementation of clinically relevant findings into innovative therapeutic approaches leads to Investigator-initiated Trials (IIT), which are carried out in cooperation with the ZKS Köln (Clinical Trials Centre).
Since many neuropediatric and neurological diseases are rare diseases, the neuromedical disciplines participate in the Cologne Center for Rare Diseases and in national and international research consortia. In this way, the scientists and clinicians researching on Neuromodulation were able to make a crucial contribution in recent years to establishing deep brain stimulation in the early treatment of Parkinson's disease, as well as in special neurological and psychiatric indications (e.g. obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette's syndrome, dystonia), and to uncovering the molecular genetic causes of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) as an important contribution to the development of a gene therapy for SMA.
In cooperation with CERES, EraNet Neuron grants are used to support the development the ethical and legal framework for a biomarker-based prediction of Alzheimer's disease. Cologne plays a leading role in one of the world's largest consortia on the genetics of Alzheimer's dementia and risk stages (European Alzheimer's Disease Biobank, EADB) through the funding from the EU Joint Program - Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND). In a current multicenter BMBF project, Cologne is coordinating the largest psychotherapy study to date on age-related depression (CBTla-te), thus broadening the spectrum of age-related diseases.
Health & Health Services Section
Together with the other faculties and the rectorate of the University of Cologne, the Faculty of Medicine is developing a division that goes beyond these three focal points, that expands and includes the competence on health and society: Health & Health Services.
The division is intended to bring the results of fundamental and clinical research into society (from bench to bedside to communities to society). This is a further step in the translation of research from the laboratory not only into therapy development, but also to the bedside and even past it. Here, ethical, legal and social aspects must be taken into account.
Health literacy is the key concept in the interaction between patients and the health system in the fields of prevention, therapy and rehabilitation; it is thus an interdisciplinary cross-sectional topic. Health literacy refers to the handling of health information by different individuals (patients, citizens, health practitioners, hospitals, health care institutions) with regard to its implementation in health behavior and health care.
In this division, relevant factors of health literacy are identified, in particular with regard to the research focal points described above, and concepts and interventions are developed and carried out that build upon them.
An important milestone here is the establishment of CERES - the Cologne Center for Ethics, Rights, Economics, and Social Sciences of Health, an interdepartmental center for interdisciplinary research, education, training and counseling on socially relevant issues in healthcare. It is carried by the Rectorate and five faculties
The main topics are aging and demographic shift, health literacy in complex environments as well as health and society in the information age. Further information on the main topics of CERES can be found here.
Center for Health Services Research Cologne
A further important pillar of this division is the Center for Health Services Research Cologne. The Center for Health Services Research is a health services research network for institutions of the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Human Sciences. The aim of the interfaculty cooperation is the development and long-term establishment of joint, interdisciplinary healthcare research. By bundling highly diverse specialist proficiencies of both the faculties, the main goal is set to conduct efficient health care research that combines basic and application orientation.