Chronic inflammatory diseases are major causes of morbidity and mortality in the industrialized world, affecting as many as 3–8% of the population. Genetic heritability accounts for only a small fraction of overall chronic-inflammatory disease susceptibility. Furthermore, environmental factors are considered to be 50-80% causative or promotional for chronic diseases.
Within our Research Training Group (RTG) we study environmental influences responsible for the development of complex, chronic diseases. We postulate that with genetic predisposition the pathogenesis is promoted by changes in the microbiota, cellular environment and epigenetic patterns. The interplay between environment and genetics is poorly investigated. Our results will help to define novel pathophysiological trigger factors, as well as to aid the development of innovative therapeutic approaches.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IDB) etiology as an example of a complex inflammatory disease - In most patients (dashed curve) IBD develops through (mostly unknown) environmental factors, including the gut microbiome, that act on a genetically predisposed host. However, cases have been described where highly penetrant genetic mutations cause (monogenic) IBD. How relevant infections are in the onset of IBD is still being discussed. The gene environment interactions (red arrows) are important in disease etiology and, therefore, a major focus of this Research Training Group.
Our research is based on a highly interdisciplinary and technology-driven approach and involves scientists from different disciplines and countries.By working in an interdisciplinary network, our doctoral researchers will receive a broad training for their future scientific career. Their supervisors are scientists and clinicians working in the fields of molecular biology, biochemistry, human genetics, microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, bioinformatics and statistics. They combine their molecular and clinical expertise to guarantee that the doctoral researchers receive a coordinated and innovative education.
In addition to the work on individual projects, our doctoral researchers will participate in seminars and practical courses, including topics on molecular and cellular biology methods, how to handle laboratory animals, genetics and bioinformatics. They will be prepared for a future career in science or in industry by attending conferences, visiting labs of collaboration partners and by attending soft skills courses to imporve their personal skills.