Clinical and translational fibrosis research

Pulmonary fibrosis is predominantly a disease of the elderly. Recent data suggest a prevalence of 2 percent in the normal population over 50 years of age and about 100,000 deaths per year in Germany alone. Pulmonary fibrosis is a respiratory condition with progressive destruction of the normal lung architecture due to scarring and growth of replacement tissue.

The Attract group at this location clearly benefits from the comprehensive lung transplantation program of the Hannover Medical School (MHH). In a nationwide unique manner, the network of Fraunhofer ITEM and MHH established within the German Center for Lung Research (DZL) at its Hannover site (BREATH) gives the Attract group access to both fresh lung tissues obtained from human lung explants and to tissues stored in the BREATH biobank. The underlying diseases and clinical characteristics of all lung-transplanted patients were also accurately documented by the Attract group.

The primary cell lines obtained from fresh tissue samples can be used for in-vitro assays in research projects, for example to test pharmaceutical compounds for their mode of action. In parallel with the research laboratory, Dr. Prasse also set up a clinical center for pulmonary fibrosis at the MHH, where more than 400 patients with different types of pulmonary fibrosis were taken care of already in 2015. For the materials resulting from routine diagnostic procedures in these patients, the Attract group has established another biobank, which is used in addition to obtain primary cell lines and for future biomarker research projects. Thanks to the database of healthy volunteers maintained in the CRC Hannover and in the institute’s Department of Clinical Airway Research, the Attract group furthermore has access to materials from healthy control subjects. Within an EU project on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, numerous bronchoscopies in healthy volunteers over 60 years of age were already performed at Fraunhofer ITEM in 2015 for collection of appropriate control material.

International collaboration

Based on the available biobanks and databases, the transcriptome (RNA expression) of BAL cells was analyzed in 212 patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis from three independent cohorts in a collaborative project with Yale University, and a genetic signature enabling prognosis of patient survival was developed. Under the lead of Dr. Prasse, this research work has been submitted for publication in a renowned medical journal and has been met with keen interest at international congresses. Partly because of this research, the European Respiratory Society awarded the “ERS Research Award on Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis” to Dr.  Prasse in September 2015.