Press release: BIH and Charité gain hypertension researcher Ute Scholl as second BIH Johanna Quandt Professor

On November 1, 2017, Ute Scholl assumed the position of BIH Johanna Quandt Professor for Hypertension and the Molecular Biology of Endocrine Tumors at the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Ute Scholl is the second physician, after Petra Ritter, to be appointed to one of three newly created BIH Johanna Quandt Professorships that support the advancement of translational research. This limited-term W2 professorship is funded by Stiftung Charité.

High blood pressure (hypertension) can develop in a variety of ways. Ute Scholl’s research focuses primarily on a special form of high blood pressure caused by the overproduction of the hormone aldosterone. Aldosterone is produced in the adrenal gland and causes increased sodium reabsorption in the kidneys, which in turn can lead to high blood pressure. To date, Scholl’s work has made an important contribution to understanding the root causes of this endocrine hypertension. The physician has been able to prove, for example, that special ion channel mutations in benign hormone-producing adrenal tumors are a contributing factor to this form of hypertension. The mutated ion channels cause too much calcium to flow into the cells. This activates signaling pathways that lead to higher aldosterone production and increased cell division. On rare occasions, these mutations are inherited and can cause serious high blood pressure even in young patients.

In her position as BIH Johanna Quandt Professor, Ute Scholl will build on her previous research and identify further signaling pathways that play a critical role in the emergence of hypertension. “High blood pressure is a common disease that affects more than one billion people worldwide,” says Scholl. Serious, familial forms of hypertension are rare and therefore very useful in identifying important signaling pathways in blood pressure regulation.” The professor will use modern sequencing technology to find the genetic mechanisms of hypertension and understand certain interconnections that give rise to the disease. She wants to focus initially on other hormonal disturbances that lead to high blood pressure, develop specific blockers for mutated ion channels, and run clinical trials on these blockers. The blockers will be used solely to better understand and treat hormone-producing tumors.

“We are delighted that Ute Scholl is bringing her innovative and award-winning research to the BIH research program,” says Professor Martin Lohse, spokesperson of the BIH Executive Board and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC). “Her work will allow us to better understand one of the most common diseases in the world and to offer better treatment to patients of all ages.”

Ute Scholl, born 1983 in Aachen, studied medicine at RWTH Aachen University, where she also received her doctorate in 2008. Until 2013, Ute Scholl worked as a postdoc at the Department of Genetics at Yale University‘s Department of Genetics (New Haven, CT, USA). In 2013, she came back to North Rhine-Westphalia through NRW’s Returning Experts Program to start her own research group, and in 2014 she was appointed assistant professor of experimental nephrology and hypertension at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. Ute Scholl’s work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Walter Clawiter Prize, the Ingrid zu Solms Prize for Medicine, and the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize. Since 2016, she has been a member of the Junges Kolleg of the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences, Humanities and the Arts.

With the BIH Johanna Quandt Professorships, the Stiftung Charité supports the establishment of three W2 professorships at BIH specifically for women. Each of the professorships is coupled with a long-term perspective from the very beginning and therefore represents a pilot scheme for introducing a real tenure track. Another special feature of the BIH Johanna Quandt Professorships is that the applicants themselves determine the research focus of their professorship. The decisive factor for the selection was the innovative and interdisciplinary orientation with a translational approach. With the BIH Johanna Quandt Professorships, BIH, Charité, and Stiftung Charité are helping to ensure equal opportunities within the Berlin health-research sector.

Ute Scholl explains her research in this video (in German).