Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common chronic liver disease worldwide, affecting a staggering 25% of the general population. Its prevalence is expected to rise further with an ageing and more obese world population. NAFLD constitutes a major cause of life-threatening sequelae such as liver cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma. While lifestyle interventions have demonstrated some efficacy, no liver-targeted therapy is currently approved. The Transregio-CRC (CRC/TR) 362 on NAFLD will focus on understanding, preventing and treating NAFLD before the development of late stage complications such as decompensated liver cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma. Our consortium seeks to leverage innovative technologies including single-cell and spatial transcriptomics, lipidomics, and organoid modelling, together with outstanding immunological, clinical and translational expertise, to provide yet unprecedented insight into NAFLD-driving cell interactions and pathomechanisms in patients, followed by subsequent functional validation as well as testing of new therapies in experimental models. Taking advantage of these advances, our interdisciplinary research consortium will focus on a bidirectional bedside-to-bench and bench-to-bedside approach defining and targeting mechanisms that drive the transition from a solely metabolic risk to a disease with liver-specific sequelae and grave prognostic relevance.
The overarching aim is to gain a holistic understanding of the disease-defining, liver-specific molecular and cellular events in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Projects in two interrelated research areas (A – metabolic injury, B – inflammation and fibrosis) will aim at understanding heterogeneity in mechanisms of hepatocyte metabolic injury, subsequent inflammatory and fibrogenic responses as well as the underlying cell-cell crosstalk in order to develop novel therapeutic concepts. Central projects will provide relevant cross-sectional technologies such as access to extensively phenotyped patient material, transcriptomics, bioinformatics, science data management and an integrated research training group. Together, we will define the events that govern the transition from benign steatosis to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and the involved key players; understand key drivers of hepatic inflammation and fibrogenesis in NAFLD; elucidate the cross-talk between different cell-types and metabolism – inflammation – fibrosis as well as interrelated feed-forward mechanisms in NAFLD; and apply the above concepts to develop novel therapeutic approaches and concepts of multi-modal combination therapy in NAFLD.
The CRC/TR 362 in Berlin and Dresden will open prospects for a new generation of rationally designed and personalized treatment approaches that might prevent the liver of at risk individuals progress from metabolic risk to disease.
The consideration of heterogeneity of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is mandatory to precisely define the natural history of different NAFLD phenotypes and to appropriately select for specific research questions and clinical trials. We will provide a variety of longitudinally collected adult and pediatric human NAFLD samples to the entire CRC/TR. The detailed clinical characterization in combination with the molecular characterization in the projects of the CRC/TR will allow an extensive phenotyping and the identification of new sub-phenotypes, which can guide the development of better preclinical models and identify novel phenotype-targeted therapies.
PI: Münevver Demir / Nikolaos Perakakis / Johann Pratschke
Next generation sequencing (NGS) has revolutionised molecular biology. We will customise NGS methods and implement robust frameworks for data management. We will develop innovative technologies such as single cell multi omics (scNMT-seq), combinatorial indexing for upscaling throughput, and spatial transcriptomics. Data will be integrated using machine learning across multi-omics modalities to uncover the molecular events, cellular crosstalk and spatial context driving NAFLD. Our framework will help exploration of stage-specific events and drivers, and also empower projects to link key events in human NAFLD to functional studies in mouse models of NAFLD/NASH.
PI: Andreas Dahl / Roland Eils
The integrated research training group (iRTG) is committed to the training of young doctoral MD and PhD researchers. The iRTG will provide (i) a platform for a structured thesis program with focus on NAFLD and liver disease, (ii) educational activities covering aspects of disease pathology and experimental training, (iii) mentoring and career support of doctoral researchers, as well as (iv) funding schemes for exchange programs within the CRC/TR and travel bursaries for doctoral researchers. The iRTG will closely interact with existing structures of graduate support in Berlin and Dresden. The activities of the iRTG will be governed by two PIs, coordinators and a Young Investigator Committee.
PI: Cornelius Engelmann / Sebastian Zeissig
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