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DFG Research Group "Translational Pruritus Research" enters second funding phase

The interdisciplinary research group "Translational Pruritus Research" (FOR 2690) to continue successful research: Funding through the German Research Foundation (DFG) has been secured until 2024. The research group formed in 2018 to uncover the fundamental mechanisms of itching and thus develop more effective therapies against chronic pruritus.

Pruritus is not only a frequent accompanying symptom of many skin diseases; the annoying itch can also occur in connection with liver or kidney diseases and with nerve damage, for example in diabetes. To date, there is hardly any relief for pruritus, as there are multiple influencing factors and the underlying mechanisms complex and poorly understood.

The special feature of the research group "Translational Pruritus Research" is its interdisciplinarity: Experts from dermatology, neurology, internal medicine, neurophysiology, radiology, anesthesiology and medical informatics conduct research here with a common goal. In their patient-centered approach, they focused on three important clinical forms of itch: inflammatory, systemic and neuropathic pruritus.

In the first funding phase, the scientists succeeded in recruiting and studying more than 800 patients to investigate the mechanisms of chronic itch. The successful collaboration of the experts in a total of eight projects is evidenced by a high scientific output with a large number of scientific publications.

Among other things, they were able to show that increased branching of nerve fibers can increase their excitability and thus contribute to pruritus. And with interleukin 31 and Brain Derived Neutrophic Factor (BDNF), mediators were identified that increase such branching. In addition, methods for electrical stimulation of itch have been developed that specifically activate the uppermost skin nerves and serve pruritus research in patients.

"Our research group is an excellent example of successful exchange between basic and clinically oriented researchers," said Professor Dr. Martin Schmelz, spokesman for the research group, who heads the "Experimental Pain Research" department at the Mannheim Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University. "Through this exchange, we can, for example, link data from single-cell RNA sequencing of skin biopsies to the clinical expression of pruritus in individual patients."

"Another interesting new starting point is the microbiome - and in particular the question of which microorganisms of a patient's skin can exacerbate pruritus," adds Professor Dr. Dr. Sonja Ständer, the deputy spokesperson of the research group, who heads the first Competence Center for Chronic Pruritus at Münster University Hospital.

The DGF will support the research group with a total of 4 million euros over the next three years.

Press release of the Medical Faculty Mannheim (German language):

30.09.2021 Erfolgreiche Forschung zum chronischen Pruritus wird fortgeführt

FOR 2690: Translational Pruritus Research

Research group funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for the research of itch
→ Project description (English language)