Press releases

Understanding immune differences between the sexes for better personalised medicine

UKE and BNITM receive research funding of 4.5 million euros

Hamburg - It has been increasingly proven that diseases occur with different frequency and run differently in women and men. Now scientists at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) and the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) are researching immunological gender differences so that in future these can be taken into account in the run-up to the treatment of patients. The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding the project of the research group "Gender-specific differences in immune responses" with 4.5 million euros.

The research group, consisting of scientists from the fields of autoimmune diseases, infectiology and tumour research at the UKE, the BNITM and the Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology (HPI), are investigating the causes of gender-specific influences on immune diseases, infections and tumours.

"We are at the beginning of an exciting development that will allow us to react to individual immunological processes in a much more differentiated way than before. The systematic inclusion of gender-specific factors could make an important contribution to new treatment strategies for infections and immune-mediated diseases in the future," explains Prof. Marcus Altfeld, Institute of Immunology at the UKE, who heads the research network together with Prof. Hanna Lotter, BNITM.

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Logo of the Research Group "Gender Differences in Immune Responses"   ©UKE / BNITM

"The special interdisciplinary composition of the group, which combines findings on sex differences from both studies on humans and studies on animal models, makes it possible to capture direct hormonal influences on immune responses and their effects on disease processes," says Lotter, head of the Molecular Infection Immunology working group at BNITM.

Immune response depends on gender-specific influences

It is already known that women and men differ in their immune responses: For example, women develop a better defence against pathogens, which can lead to a faster fight against infections. Likewise, in contrast to the male sex, they develop a stronger immune response after vaccinations and show clearer immune reactions against some types of malignant tumours. However, this improved immune response also has disadvantages: for example, women suffer more from persistent inflammation and are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases.

Why women and men differ in these immune-mediated diseases and what biological mechanisms underlie this has not yet been comprehensively researched and is now being investigated by the research group. The team of researchers involved is investigating, among other things, whether conserved immunological processes are responsible for gender-specific differences and how sex hormones and genes of the X chromosome influence gender differences in immune responses.

The Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM)

The Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine is Germany's largest institution for research, care and teaching in the field of tropical and emerging infectious diseases. Current research focuses on malaria, haemorrhagic fever viruses, immunology, epidemiology and clinic of tropical infections as well as the mechanisms of virus transmission by mosquitoes. For handling highly pathogenic viruses and infected insects, the institute has laboratories of the highest biological safety level (BSL4) and a safety insectarium (BSL3). BNITM includes the national reference centre for the detection of all tropical infectious agents and the WHO collaborating centre for arboviruses and haemorrhagic fever viruses. Together with the Ghanaian Ministry of Health and the University of Kumasi, it operates a modern research and training centre in the West African rainforest, which is also available to external working groups.

The University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE)

Founded in 1889, the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) is one of the most modern hospitals in Europe and, with around 13,600 employees, one of the largest employers in Hamburg. Every year, the UKE treats around 511,000 patients, 106,000 of them as inpatients and 405,000 as outpatients. The UKE's research focuses include neurosciences, cardiovascular research, health services research, oncology as well as infections and inflammations. Through the Medical Faculty, the UKE trains around 3,400 doctors and dentists.

Knowledge - research - healing through networked competence: The UKE. |

Contact person

Prof. Dr Hanna Lotter

Research Group Leader

Phone : +49 40 42818-475

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Dr Eleonora Schoenherr

Public Relations

Phone : +49 40 285380-269

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