Molecular Epidemiology (MEP)
Profile of the Department
Our department investigates the influence of diet and other lifestyle factors on the development of cardiometabolic diseases, especially type 2 diabetes and its complications. We have three main goals:
- Identification of risk profiles and potential pathomechanisms by examining complex biomarker profiles as mediators of nutrition
- Identification of phenotypic and genotypic subgroups with different risks or different effects of nutritional exposure
- Development and improvement of prediction models for personalized prevention
With this in mind, we examine nutritional patterns, individual foods and nutrients, and use biomarkers as an alternative for determining nutritional exposures. We use epidemiological studies as the basis for our research, in particular the prospective EPIC-Potsdam study and its further developments (EPIC-DZD, NutriAct family study), the EPIC consortium and the NAKO Health Study.
Studies of the Department
Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Matthias Schulze
The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Potsdam study is a prospective cohort study with 27,548 participants: women aged 35 to 64 and men aged 40 up to 64 years. The goal is to investigate the influence of diet on the development of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. The cohort, which started in 1994, is part of a European study with a total of around 521,000 study participants.
Our department uses data and biosamples from the study in a variety of ways for research, e.g. to gain new insights into the role of fatty acid metabolism in connection with cardiometabolic diseases, to develop predictive models for diabetes and associated complications or to examine the long-term influence of dietary patterns on chronic diseases.
With support from the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), it has been possible since 2014 to invite participants to a limited follow-up examination, called "EPIC-DZD".
Principal Investigator EPIC-Potsdam/Member EPIC Steering Committee: Prof. Dr. Matthias Schulze
The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study is a European collaborative project of prospective cohort studies in ten European countries with a total of around 521,000 study participants. It is one of the largest cohort studies in the world. EPIC was developed to examine the relationships between diet, nutritional status, lifestyle and environmental factors, as well as the incidence of cancer and other chronic diseases. EPIC researchers are active in all areas of epidemiology. Important contributions to nutritional epidemiology were made with the help of biomarker analyses and questionnaire information as well as genetic analyses and lifestyle studies. The EPIC consortium is headed by a steering committee that consists of the leading scientists from the individual study centers. DIfE is participating in the cohort with the EPIC-Potsdam study.
Within the EPIC study, our department focuses on clarifying questions regarding the development of type 2 diabetes (EPIC Working Group EPIC-InterAct) and cardiovascular diseases (EPIC Working Group EPIC-CVD). In this context, we investigate the role of food consumption and dietary patterns as well as the interactions between nutrition and genetic predisposition in the development of these chronic diseases.
Principal Investigator NAKO Study Center Berlin-South/Brandenburg: Prof. Dr. Matthias Schulze
The German National Cohort is currently the largest long-term population study in Germany. Its goal is to investigate the causes the of most important common diseases in order to develop new prevention and treatment strategies. About 200,000 men and women between 20 and 69 years of age have been examined medically in 18 study centers nationwide since 2014 and asked about their living habits. The Berlin-South / Brandenburg study center, headed by DIfE, is located in Berlin Steglitz-Zehlendorf. By the beginning of 2019, around 10,000 adults had been questioned about their lifestyle and examined medically there.
Our department is involved on the one hand in the collection and modeling of nutritional data (module responsibility), as well as in the evaluation of this data, especially in relation to important metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Prof. Matthias Schulze is a member of the Expert Group Nutrition and spokesman for the Expert Group Diabetes / Metabolic Diseases.
Contact persons: Prof. Dr. Matthias Schulze, Dr. Franziska Jannasch, Daniela Nickel
The NutriAct family study deals with the question of which factors influence eating and drinking behavior in adulthood. Of particular interest is whether and how the choice of food is shaped by previous experiences in their own parents' house and what influence comes from the later life partner. The participants answered online questionnaires on their own eating habits, handling of food, taste, smell and wellbeing, eating habits, meal structure and family eating rules, but also on other lifestyle factors such as exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption.
In this context, our department mainly examines data on usual food consumption in order to identify individual and interpersonal determinants of eating patterns.
Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Matthias Schulze
Contact person: Catarina Schiborn
The DIfE German Diabetes Risk Score (DRT) was developed at DIfE and is available free of charge. The test can be used to calculate the individual type 2 diabetes risk over the next five years using various anthropometric and lifestyle-describing factors. Studies have shown that communicated health risks can lead to a different understanding of risk depending on the form of presentation used.
In order to investigate the effects of the test results on risk perception, we compare three forms of communication in an online study. We want to use the results of the study to further optimize the DRT as a possible component of an information and prevention system for type 2 diabetes. The one-time assessment was carried out exclusively electronically via an online questionnaire. First, the subjects answered questions about risk assessment, test result expectations and mathematical understanding. Then they filled out the DRT. Finally, questions were asked again about risk perception, concerns about diabetes and the intention to change behavior.
Contact persons: Prof. Dr. Matthias Schulze, Dr. Fabian Eichelmann, Anna Birukov, Catarina Schiborn, Elli Polemiti, Anika Zembic
The German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) aims to clarify the causes of diabetes through interdisciplinary and translational research and to develop new prevention and therapy concepts. In cooperation with other departments at DIfE and with the DZD partners of the other centers, our department examines new risk factors for the incidence of diabetes (e.g. epigenetic changes) and of macro and microvascular diseases in diabetes. Such findings can potentially be used to predict diabetes and complications and should be taken into account in extensions to the German Diabetes Risk Score. Another interest is to identify risk factors for specific subgroups. The analysis of gene-environment interactions in the area of nutrition and diabetes risk is the subject of the InterAct project, which is based on the EPIC study. We also examine subgroups based on phenotypic characteristics, such as the presence of a so-called “metabolic health” (absence of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid metabolism disorders).
Contact persons: Dr. Franziska Jannasch, Daniela Nickel
The collaborative project NutriAct (Nutritional Intervention for Healthy Aging: Food Patterns, Behavior and Products) is a competence cluster for nutritional research funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The central goal is to improve the health status of the 50- to 70-year-olds. Network partners come from nutritional sciences, food chemistry and technology, biology, medicine as well as humanities and social sciences and economics.
Our group coordinates sub-project A, which focuses on dietary patterns. Here we want to examine associations between patterns already described as healthy (e.g. Mediterranean and Nordic diets) and healthy aging in the EPIC-Potsdam study and describe longer-term changes in dietary patterns.
Contact person: Dr. Maria Cabral
The homeostasis of trace elements is influenced by food intake, gender, age and state of health. Interactions between trace elements under physiological and pathophysiological conditions have so far hardly been characterized. For some time now, the trace elements selenium, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine and iron have been suspected to be involved in the pathogenesis of important age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. However, the heterogeneity of the results between observational and intervention studies is large. Although it is known that trace elements mutually influence homeostasis and metabolism, studies have so far hardly investigated several trace elements at the same time.
Within the TraceAge DFG research group FOR 2558 we pursue the hypothesis that aging is characterized by changes in the blood concentrations of several trace elements, which are associated with the development of age-related chronic diseases. To answer this question, we will examine changes in the trace element profile of participants in the EPIC-Potsdam study. As a large population-based cohort study, EPIC-Potsdam also allows the study of associations between trace element profiles with the incidence of age-related diseases, in particular type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, as well as cardiometabolic risk factors.
Contact persons: Prof. Dr. Matthias Schulze, Dr. Fabian Eichelmann, Dr. Susanne Jäger, Dr. Clemens Wittenbecher, Marcela Prada
FAME (Fatty Acid Metabolism – Interlinking Diet with Cardiometabolic Health) is a research consortium with one center in Germany (DIfE) and two centers each in Spain (University of Cordoba, University of Navarre) and in England (University of Reading, University of East Anglia). The consortium, coordinated by our group, is funded by the Joint Programming Initiative A healthy diet for a healthy life within the ERA-HDHL Cofounded joint call “Biomarkers for Nutrition and Health”.
The goal of FAME is, based on existing biosamples and data on nutrition and phenotypes of cohort studies and randomly controlled studies:
- to identify novel fatty acids and lipidomics biomarkers for cardiometabolic health which could supplement or replace established fatty acid profiles as sensitive biomarkers of the status and future risk of disease
- to establish relationships between diets and the consumption of specific foods and the tissue status of fatty acids in order to demonstrate the effects of diet and cardiometabolic health, and
- to examine genetic determinants of fatty acid status and metabolism, which can modify the effects of food.
Principal Investigator DIfE: Prof. Dr. Matthias Schulze
The multicentre, EU-funded RODAM cross-sectional study was carried out on adults in Ghana, Ghana, and Ghanaian migrants in London, Amsterdam and Berlin. The aim of the RODAM study is to identify the relative contributions of environmental and behavioral as well as (epi)genetic risk factors for type 2 diabetes and obesity. The usual dietary behavior of 5,898 participants was recorded using a semi-quantitative, culture-sensitive food frequency questionnaire (Ghana-FPQ). Information on demographic and socio-economic characteristics as well as smoking behavior and physical activity were documented in questionnaire-based interviews. In addition, fasting blood and urine samples were collected and physical examinations were performed.
In the study, our department coordinated the collection of nutritional data and mainly investigates the influence of diet and meal patterns on the development of type 2 diabetes.
Contact person: Prof. Dr. Matthias Schulze
InterConnect represents a global network for diabetes and obesity research funded by the EU (funding agreement No. 602068). So far, studies have tried to explain the differences in disease risk within the populations, but the differences between populations are often much larger and largely unexplained. InterConnect aims to change the way data is used in population research.
The InterConnect approach enables the direct investigation of variations between population groups by means of meta-analysis of individual participant data across studies, but without physically storing the data centrally.
Our department has played a leading role in establishing the InterConnect infrastructure and in generating an InterConnect study register. The register currently lists more than 200 studies worldwide relevant to diabetes and obesity research. We are currently leading an InterConnect project in which we are investigating the relationship between dietary patterns and the incidence of type 2 diabetes in study cohorts from several countries.
Contact person: Prof. Dr. Matthias Schulze
Epidemiological, clinical and public health studies are highly standardized, well documented and provide structured, quality-checked data. However, access to and use of this data is restricted, e.g. due to data protection laws and the lack of compatibility of data types. NFDI4Health (National Research Data Infrastructure for Personal Health Data) strives for better and more extensive reuse of personal health data in Germany. NFDI4Health consists of an interdisciplinary team of 18 partners. Currently 46 institutions from the health sector are participating in the consortium, including large professional societies and important epidemiological cohorts, among others, the DIfE with the EPIC-Potsdam study. Prof. Schulze is co-applicant and co-spokesman for the Task Area "Use Cases" of NFDI4Health. Our department brings expertise into the consortium regarding the harmonization of nutritional data and data on the epidemiology of chronic diseases as well as decentralized data analysis.
Contact persons: Prof. Dr. Matthias Schulze, Dr. Susanne Jäger, Anna Birukov
The Fatty Acids and Outcomes Research Consortium (FORCE) aims to clarify the influence of fatty acids from food and metabolic processes, measured with biomarkers, on the development of chronic diseases (cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other diseases). Longitudinal studies with fatty acid biomarker data and identified disease cases serve as the basis. We participate in the FORCE Consortium with data from the EPIC-Potsdam study. The strength of the project is that each study is evaluated according to a standardized analysis plan and the results of all participating studies are summarized by meta-analysis.
Contact persons: Dr. Susanne Jäger, Dr. Rafael Cuadrat
With the technical development of high-throughput methods for the determination of gene markers and the associated lower costs per sample, a new research field has been established in recent years. In the so-called genome-wide association studies (GWAS), a large proportion of the genome is characterized in order to then use statistical methods to filter out those areas that are associated with an increased risk of disease. Because it is an advantage to have as large a data base as possible, consortia have been formed from various individual studies in recent years.
Our department participates in several international GWAS consortia with data from the EPIC-Potsdam study, including: GIANT (Genetic Investigation of ANthropometric Traits), MAGIC (Meta-Analyzes of Glucose and Insulin-related traits Consortium), CHARGE (Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology) and Ygen (role of the Y chromosome in disease development).
Publications of the Department
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