New institute director at Fraunhofer ITEM

Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Thum started on January 1, 2021

Heading for a successful future of the institute

New institute director at Fraunhofer ITEM: Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Thum started on January 1, 2021
© Fraunhofer ITEM
On January 1, 2021, Prof. Thomas Thum joined Fraunhofer ITEM as new institute director in tandem with Prof. Norbert Krug.

Prof. Thomas Thum is a specialist in cardiology and bioscience, with a clear research focus on the functional characterization and translational potential of novel therapeutic RNA strategies targeting cardiovascular diseases. After his studies of human medicine at the Hannover Medical School (MHH) and both clinical and scientific training in Hannover and Würzburg, he did his PhD at the Imperial College London (UK). As professor and director of the Institute of Molecular and Translational Therapeutic Strategies (IMTTS) at MHH since 2009, Thum has been engaged in research for many years, in particular in the preclinical field.

He has filed and licensed numerous patents in the area of non-coding RNA and has founded the successful biotech company Cardior Pharmaceuticals GmbH as a spin-off from MHH. Scientific success and transfer competence as key criteria for the success of a Fraunhofer Institute will contribute decisively to his successful management of Fraunhofer ITEM in tandem with Institute Director Prof. Norbert Krug.

In addition to the institute’s existing research focus “respiratory diseases”, therapeutic and diagnostic strategies for heart diseases will henceforth play an important role in the research performed at Fraunhofer ITEM.

Cooperation partners and networks

In connection with his becoming new institute director of Fraunhofer ITEM, Prof. Thum was offered a full professorship in “Translational validation of innovative therapeutics” at the Hannover Medical School (MHH), which he equally took on at the beginning of January 2021. His work at his MHH institute will have a primary focus on basic research, while his Fraunhofer activities, in line with the Fraunhofer model, will be oriented more toward preclinical and translational issues and will include his active participation in research networks. These further strengthened ties with the university medical center of MHH and the intensified translation from bench to bedside will be a benefit to Fraunhofer's innovative strength in health research and eventually to patients.

Based on his R&D competencies, Prof. Thum will establish new business areas at Fraunhofer ITEM.

© Thomas Thum

R&D focuses: cardiology and non-coding RNAs

Expression profiles in heart tissue

As a replacement for and further development of animal experiments, myocardial cells derived from human pluripotent stem cells and precision-cut slices of myocardial tissue can be provided for drug testing. These “heart slices” can be cultured in suitable incubators for several days and thus enable studies on therapeutic interventions.

During treatment with new drug candidates, contractility measurements are performed and imaging techniques are applied. At the end of the study, gene and protein expression profiles including single-cell sequencing are generated and bioinformatics analyses are performed. 

Patient stratification and toxicity

Circulating non-coding RNAs in body fluids can be used for diagnostic purposes in clinical studies. The aim is to develop diagnostics based on these biomarkers as part of a companion diagnostic in early phase-I and phase-II studies.

With this technology, it is possible to select patients who are optimally suited for a new therapy, determine the efficacy of new therapies, find optimal drug dosages, and perform toxicity assessments.

Establishment of methods of toxicology

New areas of research and new therapeutic substance classes such as oligonucleotide-based methods also require parallel development of adequate molecular toxicology test methods.

In addition to the traditional transcriptome analyses of coding RNAs, non-coding RNAs are studied as part of toxicological tests to identify functionally active adverse-outcome pathways and their networks.

Drug testing against fibroses

Models of pulmonary fibrosis already well characterized at Fraunhofer ITEM are being extended to other fibrotic diseases, e.g. of the heart and liver. These models allow testing of the numerous anti-fibrotic drug candidates that have been developed recently.

Measurements such as echocardiography (heart), sonography (liver) and hemodynamics (pressure-volume analyses) as well as OMICS technologies including single-cell sequencing are used to analyze the mechanisms of anti-fibrotic agents.