Obesity: research focuses on treatments for secondary diseases

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As the number of obese people suffering from related conditions such as liver disease increases, so does the need for research to develop interventions to improve patient care. The Christian Doppler Laboratory, which opened today at MedUni Vienna, is investigating the physiological basis of the consequences of obesity. The focus is on a translational research approach, with the aim of transferring new knowledge arising from basic research into clinical application as quickly as possible.

Research at MedUni Vienna’s Christian Doppler Laboratory for Immunometabolism and Systems Biology of Obesity-Related Diseases (InSpiReD) is intended to help meet the steadily growing medical need for treatments for various obesity-related diseases. The scientists, led by Omar Sharif from MedUni Vienna’s Center for Physiology and Pharmacology, are focusing in particular on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and its aggressive inflammatory form, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), as well as on liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma, HCC) as an increasingly prevalent and particularly aggressive cancer.

Ministry of Economics and Labour sponsors collaboration
"Obesity-related diseases are not only a burden for those directly affected but can subsequently lead to challenges in the labour market as well. Appropriate patient care and prevention are important measures to keep workers healthy and active in the workforce for as long as possible. Basic research and its rapid translation into clinical treatments are both key factors in this endeavour. The CD Laboratories provide an ideal framework for this, since they facilitate long-term basic research as well as close collaboration with commercial partners," says Martin Kocher, Minister for Economics and Labour.

"Our goal is to understand the physiological basis of the consequences of obesity," says Omar Sharif, Head of the new CD Lab. To this end, the research team at MedUni Vienna is working closely with corporate partner Boehringer Ingelheim to study, inter alia, the special potential of macrophages and their role in the assimilation of dying cells. "Immunometabolic reprogramming of these immune cells is an exciting therapeutic option for treating obesity-related inflammatory diseases and cancer," says Omar Sharif, highlighting the importance of research at the newly opened CD Lab.

"In recent years, metabolism has been shown to affect immune cell function, modulating immune responses that are important in various diseases. Understanding the role of immunometabolism, particularly in the disposal of dead cells, has led to our collaboration with the CD Laboratory. Our goal is to identify new therapeutic targets for Boehringer Ingelheim’s pharmaceutical research," emphasises Kerstin Kitt, Director of Immune Modulation, Boehringer Ingelheim.

Linking basic research and clinical application
"The linking of basic research and clinical application is the established practice at MedUni Vienna. The high value of this translational approach is once again evidenced by the recently opened Christian Doppler Laboratory for Immunometabolism and Systems Biology of Obesity-Related Diseases. Newly acquired scientific findings are used directly for the development of innovative treatments and are therefore applied where they are needed: in the treatment of patients," says Michaela Fritz, Vice Rector for Research and Innovation at MedUni Vienna, explaining the importance of CD laboratories.

Highly relevant area of research
Current data confirm the enormous relevance of research in the field of obesity: obesity has now reached pandemic proportions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people classed as obese has tripled since the 1970s. According to Statistics Austria, 17.9% of men and 15% of women are currently considered obese in Austria alone.

About Christian Doppler Laboratories
Christian Doppler Laboratories conduct high-level, application-oriented basic research, whereby outstanding scientists collaborate with innovative companies. The Christian Doppler Research Association is a global model of Best Practice in promoting this type of collaborative approach. Christian Doppler Laboratories are jointly funded by the public sector and the participating companies. The most important public funding source is the Federal Ministry of Economics and Labour (BMAW).


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