International doctoral programme on specific autoimmune diseases

The EU is funding the consortium "IgG4 Treat" with over 2.5 million euros for four years. Kiel University and the UKSH are 2 of 16 project partners.


The doctoral network “IgG4-TREAT - Systematic study of IgG4-autoimmune diseases to develop new treatment strategies” funded by the European Union within the framework of Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions, is now starting the recruitment phase. The European consortium involves 13 academic research institutions, including the Faculty of Medicine at Kiel University (CAU) and the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH), as well as 3 companies from 7 countries. Interested young researchers from the life sciences can now apply for one of a total of ten doctoral projects in Germany (Kiel, Berlin), Austria (Vienna), France (Paris), the Netherlands (Leiden, Maastricht, Amsterdam), Greece (Athens), Italy (Pisa) or Turkey (Istanbul). The research network has a total of 2.63 million euros at its disposal until the studies are completed in 2027.

The overarching research topic is autoimmune diseases with organ-specific autoantibodies of a specific subtype, the IgG4 isotype. These include, for example, inflammations of the peripheral nervous system (immune neuropathies), subtypes of the nerve-muscle disease myasthenia gravis and autoimmune diseases of the central nervous system (autoimmune encephalitides) as well as certain blistering skin diseases and glomerular kidney diseases. "Our consortium assumes that common pathomechanisms are present in all of these diseases, the investigation of which also opens up shared treatment options," explains Kiel project leader PD Dr. Frank Leypoldt, one of the heads of the Neuroimmunology working group at the Institute of Clinical Chemistry at the UKSH and a member of the Cluster of Excellence "Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation" (PMI) "The diseases we are talking about are rare in themselves, but together they are a relevant group."

Common denominator: autoantibodies of the type IgG4

The cross-organ, joint consideration of these different IgG4 autoimmune diseases is the research consortium’s main topic. The diseases are clinically severe, sometimes difficult to diagnose and hard to treat. They affect various organs and have therefore not yet been considered in an overarching way. "The common denominator of all these diseases, however, are the IgG4 type antibodies," says Leypoldt. Until now, these antibodies were actually considered anti-inflammatory, as they activate other components of the immune system significantly less than other isotypes. The problem is that they still bind with high strength to their respective antigen, an endogenous protein, and block its function. "We have been observing this phenomenon in completely different organ systems, in the skin, kidney, brain and peripheral nerves. We want to understand this and exploit it therapeutically. Perhaps solutions can be found that can be applied across the board," explains the expert on autoimmune brain diseases.

Innovative education at different locations

The programme focuses on training and networking young researchers in the field of IgG4 antibody-mediated diseases. Laboratories and institutes with complementary expertise and resources have been brought together to ensure a balanced portfolio of expertise from different European countries for the educational network. An integral part of the Marie Sklodowska Curie Doctoral Networks is that the international doctoral candidates not only conduct research with their project at their location, but also rotate to other laboratories for three to six months in a structured manner. "In the partner labs, which work on other aspects of the initial question, they can train new techniques and broaden their horizons," Leypoldt emphasises. Together with neuroimmunologist Professor Klaus-Peter Wandinger, bioinformatician Dr. Daniela Esser and expert in neurogenetics and molecular neurobiology Professor Gregor Kuhlenbäumer, he is leading the Kiel research project, in which, among other things, immune cells in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with autoimmune encephalitis are being studied. Here, the latest molecular biological investigation methods like single cell sequencing are being used to find out why the immune cells permanently produce IgG4 autoantibodies. By analysing existing gene data, they will examine whether there are abnormalities at the genetic level that are also found in other IgG4 autoimmune diseases.

About IgG4 Treat

The programme "IgG4-TREAT - Systematic study of IgG4-autoimmune diseases to develop new treatment strategies" provides structured education for ten doctoral candidates within a European network. Participating in the research project are institutions from the academic and non-academic sectors from Austria (Medical University of Vienna), Germany (Kiel University, University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein, Campus Kiel, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin), France (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale, Paris, Sorbonne Université, Paris), the Netherlands (Leiden University Medical Center, Maastricht University, University of Amsterdam, Stichting Sanquin Bloedvoorziening, Amsterdam), Greece (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Hellenic Pasteur Institute, Tzartos NeuroDiagnostics, Athens), Italy (Azienda Ospedaliero Universitaria Pisana, Pisa, Fondazione Istituto Neurologico Nazionale Casimiro Mondino, Pavia) or Turkey (Istanbul University). Dr. Inga Koneczny from the Medical University of Vienna is coordinating the Marie-Sklodowska-Curie-Programme for doctoral candidates.


About Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions are part of the European funding programme “Horizon 2020”. They are intended to promote cross-national and cross-sectoral mobility and increase the attractiveness of scientific careers. Funding is provided for structured educational networks for doctoral candidates, research stays for experienced researchers as well as staff exchange programmes and mobility programmes. The programme was named after the two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie.


More information:

Frank Leypoldt

The head of the Kiel sub-project of "IgG4 Treat" is the neuroimmunologist PD Dr. Frank Leypoldt, senior consultant at the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and the Department of Neurology at the UKSH, Kiel Campus.

Nerve cells with bound autoantibodies under the microscope
© F. Leypoldt, UKSH

Nerve cells with bound autoantibodies under the microscope. Each green dot corresponds to a synapse, i.e. the site through which a nerve cell exchanges signals with other cells. Thousands of microscopic, green-fluorescent labelled autoantibodies attach to each of these synapses and disrupt their function. The nuclei of the nerve cells are shown in blue.


PD. Dr. Frank Leypoldt
Faculty of Medicine, CAU
Neuroimmunology working group,
Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Department of Neurology, UKSH


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