Else Kröner Fresenius Center for Optogenetic Therapies approved

Else Kröner Fresenius Foundation supports new research center for optogenetic therapies with 37.4 million euros over ten years at the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG). State of Lower Saxony is strongly supporting the establishment of the center and, together with the UMG, is holding out the prospect of up to 22.6 million euros in additional funding. The new research building with costs of 32.7 million euros will be included in the construction planning by the state of Lower Saxony. The aim of the center is to develop innovative treatment approaches for patients suffering from deafness, blindness, gastric paralysis or movement deficits. The center will be integrated into the UMG.
f.l.t.r. Prof. Madeja, Chairman EKFS Management Board; F. Mohrs, Lower Saxony's Minister Science & Culture; Prof. Brück, Dean Medical Faculty; Dr. Dangmann, Member EKFS Management Board; Prof. Moser, Auditory Neuroscience UMG

(umg/mbexc/pug/dpz/MPI-NAT/MPI-DS/HAWK) Research into the further development of "hearing with light" and other optogenetic therapies will be significantly accelerated. The Else Kröner Fresenius Foundation (EKFS) has pledged funds of up to 37.4 million euros for the establishment and operation of the Center for Optogenetic Therapies in Göttingen. The Göttingen application convinced the EKFS jury in the national competition against 32 other applications. The state of Lower Saxony expressly supports the center and has agreed to support the initiative with up to 12.6 million euros - the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) plans to raise a further ten million euros from its own funds. The new research building for the center, which will cost 32.7 million euros, will be included in the construction planning by the state of Lower Saxony.

"Göttingen has prevailed in a strong nationwide competitive environment for an Else Kröner Fresenius Center. This is a great success for the scientists and the entire UMG. And it is very good news for patients: Hearing research is already helping many people far beyond Lower Saxony. With the new procedure, an innovative method is being developed and will be ready for application within the next ten years," says Falko Mohrs, Lower Saxony's Minister for Science and Culture.

"A high-ranking jury and expert reviewers assessed the scientific quality of the projects submitted for the fourth Else Kröner Fresenius Center for Medical Research in several rounds and carried out intensive on-site inspections. The positive funding decision for the Göttingen University Medical Center's project is largely based on the high level of performance of the University Medical Center and the applicants as well as the clear and consistent focus on substantial added value for patient care," says Professor Dr. Michael Madeja, Chairman of the Management Board of the EKFS. "The Foundation is aware that this is an important and ambitious, but also risky project that could make Göttingen the world's leading center in this therapeutic approach, which could possibly replace the current standard therapy in the future. The criteria of innovation, possibilities, determination and performance were decisive," says Professor Dr. Madeja, explaining the decision of the jury and foundation board, adding: "The jury agreed that such a high-opportunity and high-risk grant can only come from a large foundation."

The new building is scheduled for completion in 2026 and will be integrated into the research building structure and planning of the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG). "We are very pleased with the Else Kröner Fresenius Foundation's decision to build the new research center in Göttingen. The center's focus on optogenetic therapies fits in perfectly with the UMG's research priorities, in this case the neurosciences, and expands the existing research infrastructure on the Göttingen Campus. Projects already underway in this area can be accelerated with the extensive funding from the Foundation and the generous support of the state of Lower Saxony. The clinical application of new and innovative treatment measures for patients with hearing loss and blindness, for example, is thus within reach," says Professor Dr. Wolfgang Brück, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the UMG and Dean of the Medical Faculty.

The aim of the new interdisciplinary research center is to harness the great potential of optogenetics - the control of cellular activity with light using light-sensitive proteins (opsins) - for clinical medicine. "Optogenetics enables targeted control of organs with light and promises to improve clinical care compared to conventional electrical medical devices such as traditional hearing prostheses, known as cochlear implants. Due to the imprecise electrical stimulation, these only allow limited speech comprehension, especially in the presence of background noise," explains Professor Dr. Tobias Moser, director of the Institute for Auditory Neuroscience at the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and spokesperson for the Cluster of Excellence "Multiscale Bioimaging: From Molecular Machines to Networks of Excitable Cells" (MBExC). Under his leadership, the application was initiated together with Professor Dr. Emilie Macé, Professor of "Dynamics of Excitable Cell Networks" at the Department of Ophthalmology at the UMG, and Professor Dr. Dr. Tobias Brügmann, research group leader at the Department of Cardiovascular Physiology at the UMG.

The Else Kröner Fresenius Center (EKFZ) for Optogenetic Therapies

Optogenetic therapies combine gene therapy and optical medical technology. They offer broader applicability than conventional gene therapies and promise greater efficacy than currently available medical devices such as the electrical cochlear implant that has been in use for many years. However, these therapies are also associated with increased regulatory challenges, i.e. the approval of these therapies is subject to higher safety requirements that must be met. The reason: in addition to a medical device, the optical implant, a therapeutic agent for gene therapy treatment of the target cells must also be approved at the same time. This combination of two different products, each with different requirements, increases the complexity of the approval process.

Specifically, the EKFZ for Optogenetic Therapies aims to develop and implement four therapeutic approaches. The research program builds on the tools and expertise of numerous scientists at the UMG, the University of Göttingen and the entire Göttingen Campus. Among others, the German Primate Center - Leibniz Institute for Primate Research (DPZ), the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Multidisciplinary Sciences, the MPI for Dynamics and Self-Organization and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen (HAWK) are also involved. The research includes studies on cell cultures, artificially reproduced organs (Dr. Maria-Patapia Zafeiriou from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the UMG) and animal models. Scientists from the Hannover Medical School and the University of Freiburg are also closely involved in the EKFZ research project, contributing their expertise in immunology, virology, optogenetics and medical technology.

Four new therapeutic approaches in development

An advisory team consisting of internal and external UMG experts supports the researchers with regard to patent and approval procedures as well as planning and conducting clinical studies on the four new therapies to be developed: optogenetic cochlear implants, retinal stimulation, gastric pacemakers and brain-computer interfaces. These innovative therapeutic approaches promise to improve clinical care compared to conventional treatment methods for patients suffering from deafness, blindness, gastric paralysis or movement deficits. The development of these therapeutic approaches is based on a new type of gene therapy that uses optogenetics. This involves controlling cellular activity with light in order to restore hearing, vision and motor functions. To make this possible, the "molecular light switches" and the viral "gene shuttles" must be optimized, i.e. the light-sensitive proteins and the viruses that transport the blueprints for these proteins into the target cells. Furthermore, the immune system is prepared for the treatment so that the body tolerates the novel therapies. The researchers and physicians from Göttingen, Hanover and Freiburg will involve patients and organizations from the very beginning in order to take their perspectives, needs and concerns into account, inform them about new therapies and recruit them for clinical trials. The spectrum of the EKFZ for Optogenetic Therapies ranges from basic strategies for optogenetic therapies to comprehensive studies in the laboratory and early clinical studies in humans.

With the support of the advisory team as well as the clinical study center and the Early Clinical Trial Unit of the UMG, a joint facility with the Fraunhofer Institute for Translational Medicine and Pharmacology ITMP in Göttingen to support early clinical studies, the EKFZ for Optogenetic Therapies is planning clinical studies on optogenetic restoration of hearing and vision within the funding period. The Light2Treat Academy will also be integrated into the new center. It offers in-depth training opportunities for young scientists with a focus on clinical translation, i.e. the transfer of research results into clinical application for patients. The EKFZ for Optogenetic Therapies will comprehensively communicate the results to the scientific community, industry and the general public. "We expect the EKFZ to become a leading international center for the development of optogenetic therapies," emphasizes Professor Dr. Tobias Moser.

Further information:
Institute for Auditory Neuroscience: www.auditory-neuroscience.uni-goettingen.de/
about MBExC: https://mbexc.de/
Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences: www.mpinat.mpg.de/en

University Medical Center Göttingen, Georg-August-University
Institute for Auditory Neuroscience
Professor Dr. Tobias Moser
Phone +49 551 / 39-63071

University Medical Center Göttingen, Georg-August-University
Corporate Communications department
Lena Bösch (Press contact)
Phone +49 551 / 39-61020

Else Kröner Fresenius Foundation
Press and Public Relations
Bianka Jerke (Press contact)
Phone +49 6172 / 8975-24

About the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG)
The University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) unites the Medical Faculty of the Georg-August University and the University Hospital under one roof. In addition to research and teaching, patient care is the third central focus of the UMG. With around 1,600 inpatient and day-care beds, the hospital is the only maximum care facility in southern Lower Saxony. With almost 9,700 employees, the UMG and its subsidiaries are one of the largest employers in the region. All basic medical disciplines are represented in around 60 clinics and departments, as well as a wide range of specialist medical disciplines in diagnostics and therapy. Every year, the UMG treats around 60,000 inpatients and around 220,000 outpatients. www.umg.eu/en/

Else Kröner Fresenius Foundation (EKFS) – Advancing research. Helping people.
Else Kröner Fresenius Foundation is a non-profit foundation dedicated to the funding and advancement of medical research and the support of humanitarian projects. To date the foundation has funded around 2,400 projects. With an annual funding volume currently amounting to over 60 million euros it is the largest foundation in Germany that actively funds and supports medicine. www.ekfs.de/en