Research Group von Mutius, Rabe, Seeger, Welte – German Center for Lung Research DZL

2019 Balzan Prize for Pathophysiology of Respiration: From Basic Sciences to the Bedside

For the outstanding achievements of four exceptional scientists working on respiratory diseases, Erika von Mutius, Klaus Rabe, Werner Seeger, and Tobias Welte, who, under the leadership of Seeger, joined their efforts in translating innovative research into new treatments to improve the quality of life for these patients, while also motivating and training the next generation of scientists within their common German Center for Lung Research.

The German Center for Lung Research (DZL) is a very successful research group with impressive academic achievements, while also actively involved in motivating and training young scientists and disseminating new knowledge about respiratory diseases in the general population. A few outstanding and respected academic leaders in the field joined forces in 2011 to create an innovative, well-structured network for the enhancement of respiratory translational science in Germany. Today, the DZL encompasses the University of Giessen and Marburg Lung Center (UGMLC), the Airway Research Center North (ARCN), the Biomedical Research in Endstage and Obstructive Lung Disease Center Hannover (BREATH), the Translational Lung Research Center Heidelberg (TLRC) and the Comprehensive Pneumology Center Munich (CPC-M). Under the leadership of Professor Werner Seeger, Professors Erika von Mutius, Klaus F. Rabe, and Tobias Welte(†) share the ambition of creating a new scientific landscape for this field in Europe. The creation of the DZL profoundly changed lung research, instilling a cooperative spirit among lung centers and scientists/physicians, which would hardly have occurred without this overarching approach. From its inception, the “bench-to-bedside” philosophy has been the driving force in the eight research areas of the DZL, resulting in numerous translational achievements. All members agreed to clearly set this common strategy above their personal academic plans and projects in order to fulfill the mission of improved understanding and better treatments of important lung diseases. Notably, this includes various approaches overarching lung disease entities, but also generations, such as cohorts spanning from the neonatal period to elder adulthood. This resulted in an innovative model not only for a common scientific approach and organization of research, but also for the definition of optimal standards of health care delivery. This latter goal was achieved by evidence-based guidelines for clinical care on the national and international level, and – equally as important – information materials for patients, so as to foster understanding and self-management of chronic respiratory diseases.

The inspirational implementation of the network saw the initiation of an extraordinary number of groundbreaking programs of experimental and clinical investigations, including the involvement in more than 250 clinical trials. This effort led to several hundred publications in high ranking international journals. The large majority of these resulted from collaboration between a number of the sites and scientists of the DZL. Not surprisingly, over the past seven years, a large number of young scientists were attracted to the program, supported by doctoral and post-doctoral DZL programs with clinical career and mentoring programs. Remarkably, recruitment of several established investigators to professorial positions from other countries has been achieved, which ensures continuity and constitutes a legacy for respiratory science in the country. Twenty professorships and junior research groups have been set up by common DZL funds. Within a relatively short time period, the founders succeeded in concentrating expensive research infrastructure in a few academic member institutions of the country (for instance equipment for imaging, biobanking or data management and exploration), with free access to DZL investigators proposing appropriate and cutting-edge scientific protocols.

From a societal point of view, DZL activities have brought into focus the burden of respiratory diseases which disproportionally affect the less privileged in our countries. They have strengthened international cooperation to combat asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, different types of pneumonia, interstitial lung diseases, and pulmonary hypertension. The program has had an exceptional transformative effect on respiratory medicine, including research, education and health care.

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