Big Data: Funding for innovative projects in infection medicine

Thümler: “Continued development of computer technologies and the use of large amounts of data offer enormous potential”

As part of the “Big Data in den Lebenswissenschaften der Zukunft” (“Big data in the life sciences of the future”) call, the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture and the Volkswagen Foundation are supporting 16 innovative projects that are focused on the opportunities offered by data-intensive research and personalised medicine. The life sciences are currently among the most dynamic research fields in science – as shown by the fact that 54 applications were submitted. Funding will be provided for research projects that make particular use of the opportunities and possibilities resulting from the ongoing digitalisation of life sciences for the advancement of knowledge. These projects develop milestones for the transfer of newly acquired knowledge and implement its initial steps. A total of five projects involving the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) have received funding.


“Life science research is of paramount importance in Lower Saxony. The continued development of computer technologies and the use of large amounts of data offer enormous potential that can make a decisive impact on people's lives and health, not only in research but also in practice. For this reason, the call also explicitly includes transfer services,” says Lower Saxony's Minister for Science and Culture, Björn Thümler.

Digitalisation is rapidly making an impact on a growing number of life science disciplines. It opens up research and application potential in medicine, for example, which, together, can fundamentally change the understanding of health and disease, as well as approaches. This means that data-intensive research and individualised approaches for patients for a large number of diseases can provide improved prevention, diagnosis and treatment in the future. 

The five projects involving the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) that received funding aim to investigate the influence of individual conditions of patients and pathogens on susceptibility to infections, course of disease and therapeutic success. 

“The HZI specifically applies innovative technologies to translational infection research that involve generating large, complex amounts of data. Together with the Hannover Medical School (MHH), we are currently establishing the new Centre for individualised infection Medicine (CiiM), in order to use the the data obtained to gain insights that are of direct benefit for infection medicine,” says Prof Dirk Heinz, Scientific Director of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig.

Prof Markus Cornberg, Director of the CiiM, explains further: “Digitalisation and meaningful combination of large amounts of data represent enormous potential for medicine, and will enable optimised, increasingly individual patient care in the future.” 

“Merging a range of different data sets from patients with information already available from other sources opens up the possibility of understanding the complex mechanisms of human pathogen defence,” says Prof Ulrich Kalinke, Director of TWINCORE, “thus insights can be gained that are relevant for improved diagnostics, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.” 

The projects in detail:

Integrative Datenanalyse für die RSV-Risikoabschätzung (Integrative Data analytIcs for Respiratory syncytial virus Risk Assessment, INDIRA)
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of severe respiratory illness in young children. Around 1% of infections are severe, however risk factors are poorly understood. Using multi-dimensional OMICs data and machine learning processes, the INDIRA collaborative project will identify genetic markers and biomarkers for the prognosis of severe RSV infections and investigate their role in the course of infection. This information will be used in the future for individualised risk assessment and customised prevention.

Wege hin zu einer personalisierten Prävention und Behandlung von schwerer Norovirus-Gastroenteritis (Paving the Way towards Personalized Prevention and Care of Severe Norovirus Gastroenteritis, PRESENt)
Partners: TWINCORE, MHH, HZI, LUH, CiiM 
Noroviruses are responsible for most gastroenteritis. Acute outbreaks, e.g. on cruise ships, as well as chronic infections in immunocompromised patients pose a health risk. Despite this, there is still no vaccine and no specific treatment. Using data-intensive technologies and machine learning methods, the PRESENt partners will identify the individual parameters that influence susceptibility and the course of infection. The goal is to develop strategies for personalised prognosis, prevention and treatment of severe norovirus infections. 

Den Weg zu individuellen Impfungen finden (Paving the way towards individualized vaccination, i.Vacc)
Partners: HZI, NAKO Gesundheitsstudie (German National Cohort (GNC)), MHH, Ostfalia, CiiM
As the number of new vaccines increases, so do the challenges for combining vaccines in terms of their effectiveness, safety and acceptance. New epidemiologically and molecularly validated, bioinformatic algorithms will contribute to personalised vaccine recommendations. Multi-dimensional data from molecular research and epidemiology will be combined, enabling customised recommendations.

Entwicklung analytischer Pipelines für die individualisierte Diagnostik und Therapie Biofilm-assoziierter Infektionen (Building an analytics framework for precision microbiology to fight biofilm-associated infections, BacData)
Biofilm-associated infections, such as implant infections or cystic fibrosis, are among the greatest challenges in modern medicine, because bacteria organised in biofilms are extremely resistant and often cannot be treated. An interdisciplinary consortium at the newly founded CiiM will combine modern technologies such as omics profiling, machine learning and data mining to decipher the structure and dynamics of relevant biofilms and will develop new diagnostic and personalised treatment strategies for the healthcare system, based on these findings.

Aus Datenfluten Wissen machen: Erstellung immunologischer Profile bei Impfungen, infektiösen Erkrankungen und Transplantationen (Transforming big data into knowledge: for deep immunoprofiling in vaccination, infectious diseases and transplantation (ImProVIT)
So far, relatively little is known about the functioning of the humane immune system. Therefore, an interdisciplinary consortium of immunologists, doctors and data scientists is developing protocols for the comprehensive analysis of immune cells of individual patients. The measured values acquired will be combined with other patient data and information from biomedical databases to generate a “knowledge graph”. Improved understanding of the human immune system will support the development of new vaccines and immunotherapies.

Further information can also be found in the press release from the Ministry at the following link: http://www.mwk.niedersachsen.de/startseite/aktuelles/presseinformationen/big-data-18-millionen-euro-fuer-16-innovative-projekte-in-den-lebenswissenschaften-177767.html