New Collaborative Research Center on the Gut-Liver Axis


German Research Foundation approves three RWTH applications and extends two projects.


The German Research Foundation, DFG for short, establishes 14 new Collaborative Research Centers, SFB for short, at German universities, including six SFB/Transregio, or TRR, which are distributed among several applicant universities. The new SFBs will initially receive a total of 164 million euros in funding for four years starting July 1, 2019. In addition, 27 SFBs will be extended for a further funding period.

Collaborative Research Centers enable innovative, challenging, and long-term research projects to be carried out in collaborations and are thus serve as focal points and structures for universities.

The RWTH application "Gut-Liver Axis - Functional Circuits and Therapeutic Targets" was approved, while the applications "Thermo-Energetic Design of Machine Tools - A Systemic Approach to Solve the Conflict between Power Efficiency, Accuracy and Productivity Demonstrated at the Example of Machining Production" and "Resistively Switching Chalcogenides for Future Electronics – Structure, Kinetics, and Device Scalability: 'Nanoswitches'" were extended.

Intestine and Liver Form a Functional Unit

With the aim of understanding the complex interactions between the intestine and the liver and developing new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of liver and intestinal diseases, scientists from RWTH and Uniklink RWTH Aachen are working closely together with research groups from Charité Berlin, University Hospital Frankfurt, and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH – UFZ in the new SFB 1382 " Gut-Liver Axis - Functional Circuits and Therapeutic Targets."

The intestine and the liver form a functional unit – in both healthy and sick individuals. "When we refer to the 'intestine-liver axis', we mean the anatomical and functional interaction of the intestine and the liver," explains Professor Oliver Pabst, head of the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Uniklink RWTH Aachen and spokesperson for the Collaborative Research Center.

The interaction of the intestine and the liver is based on manifold connections on anatomical, cellular, and molecular levels. Venous blood is transported from the intestine into the liver via the portal vein and products that are formed in the liver enter the intestine via bile ducts. Endocrine messengers, cytokines, bile salts, migratory immune cells, and microbiota products thus from network between both organs.

"In our research network, we are looking at these and many other aspects of the cooperative organ functions," says Pabst. "To this end, we are replacing the traditional organ-centered approach with an integrated one that focuses on the interactions between the intestine and liver. The aim is to decipher the mechanisms of intestinal and liver interactions in detail using optimally coordinated basic scientific analyses. This will establish a sound basis for identifying target structures for therapies and diagnostics and for developing innovative therapeutic approaches."

Nanoswitches Can Be Used for More Than 0 and 1

The aim of the SFB 917 is the use of "resistive switching chalcogenides for future electronic applications." The spokespersons are Professor Matthias Wuttig from the I. Institute of Physics (1A) at RWTH and Professor Rainer Waser from the RWTH Institute of Materials in Electrical Engineering 1 and Forschungszentrum Jülich.

Over the past 40 years, it has been possible to continuously reduce the relevant structural sizes in conventional semiconductor electronics. However, the miniaturization of circuits is increasingly reaching its physical limits. In oxides and higher chalcogenides, resistive switching processes can be realized using nanoscale functional units, which in principle should allow even better scalability. Chalcogenides are compounds of the elements oxygen, sulfur, selenium, and tellurium, which make it possible to change the resistance by applying an electrical voltage. Due to the hysteretic character of this change in resistance, a memristive element is often spoken of – a combination of the words "memory" and "resistor." Such a component makes it possible to realize neuromorphic, or brain-like functionalities in a semiconductor circuit.

The Collaborative Research Center has been funded by the DFG since 2011 and aims to investigate two related switching processes. Researchers from RWTH and Forschungszentrum Jülich are working closely together to exploit phase and valence changes of oxides and higher chalcogenides. These two variants promise the required scalability and short switching times. An understanding of the microscopic mechanisms of these fast switching operations and their control on the nanometer scale will result in new approaches in electronics. Last year, the scientists involved succeeded in implementing particularly fast switches based on oxide and telluride, which can be switched in less than 1 nanosecond. This paves the way for new components and new neuromorphic computer architectures.

"Thermo-Energetic Design of Machine Tools"

The approval of the third and final funding period of the SFB/TRR 96 "Thermo-Energetic Design of Machine Tools - A Systemic Solution to the Conflict of Objectives of Energy Consumption, Accuracy, and Productivity using the Example of Machining" means work in the field of the thermo-energetic behavior of machine tools will also be funded for another four years. For eight years now, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from RWTH, the Chemnitz University of Technology, TU Dresden, Fraunhofer IPT from Aachen, and Fraunhofer IWU from Chemnitz have been working on 20 subprojects in order to understand, describe, and correct thermo-elastic effects in machine tools.

In the first funding period, metrological and modelling fundamentals were created and then successfully integrated into assemblies and further developed in the second funding period. Combining the competences of the individual locations has made it possible to network mathematical, scientific, and engineering expertise. The focus of the third phase, or "demonstration phase", is now on the industrial applicability of the methods and solutions developed for machine tools. The challenges posed here are the complexity and range of applications of the entire machine tool system.

In the TRR, Aachen is represented by the Chair of Machine Tools and Chair of Manufacturing Technology of the Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering, WZL for short, of RWTH, Fraunhofer IPT, and the Institute of Heat and Mass Transfer, WSA for short. Professor Christian Brecher from WZL has been the spokesperson of the SFB/TRR since the second funding period.

Source: Press and Communications