Millions in Funding for a Research Project at the Faculty of Medicine

Prof. Wolfgang Högler is currently conducting research to find new ways to treat children who have growth hormone disorders. The project has now received millions in funding.

Prof. Wolfgang Högler
Prof. Wolfgang Högler

The renowned National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) has accepted Univ. Prof. Wolfgang Högler’s innovative research project. The chair for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at the JKU’s Faculty of Medicine and head of the Department for Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Kepler University Hospital is conducting research to optimize treatments for children who show a growth hormone deficiency. The project has been funded with a budget of approximately two million euros.

One in 3,500 to 4,000 people is affected by a growth hormone deficiency, meaning the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone. In Austria, approximately 25 children are newly diagnosed each year. These children experience a slower growth rate and as adults, they can be smaller in height. Growth hormones can be used to treat the disease and support normal growth. Treatment consists of daily hormone injections over a period of five to ten years until they reach their adult height. The treatment costs between € 15,000 and €35,000 annually per patient.

Shorter Treatment Period
Prof. Högler’s planned project will be a multi-center study carried out over a number of years at twelve English and four Austrian centers (the pediatric and adolescent departments at university hospitals in Linz, Graz, Salzburg and Innsbruck). The study will examine whether or not some children can be treated in a shorter period of time. At present, the children’s hormone status is checked using blood tests when initially diagnosed and when they reach their final height. It is interesting to note that after those affected reach their final height, they have normal growth hormone levels, meaning these children are considered to have recovered or have outgrown the hormone deficiency. Prof. Högler and his colleagues assume that this hormonal change occurs during puberty and many pubescent children do not suffer from growth hormone deficiency during treatment. Treatment would, therefore, no longer be necessary. At present, daily injections are administered until the child has reached his/her final adult height.

The study aims to determine whether or not children whose hormone levels return to normal at puberty and stop therapy can grow to a similar height as children who continue to receive growth hormones on a daily basis. The study will involve 138 children who have growth hormone deficiencies and whose stimulated growth hormone levels have normalized after puberty. After consent is given, these children will be randomly selected to either continue or discontinue their daily injections.

Prof. Wolfgang Högler painstakingly prepared the project together with the University College London and remarked: "We are obliged to treat our patients to the best of our knowledge and beliefs. This includes re-evaluating established diagnoses, such as growth hormone deficiencies, in order to optimize our level of care. This study will improve the reliability of the diagnosis and I hope in the long term, our patients’ treatment period can be reduced."

JKU Rector Meinhard Lukas added: "The funding provided by the National Institute of Health Research is an enormous success and a true milestone in the research perspectives of a still very young Faculty of Medicine. I would like to congratulate Prof. Högler on this outstanding achievement and thank him and his team for their enormous commitment to the project."

This six-year clinical study represents healthcare research in a conventional sense. The randomized, controlled trial also has an important public health component. Prof. Högler added: "Part of the study included a health economic analysis. Should the study yield the expected findings, in addition to the benefits of better diagnostics and treatment, the Austrian healthcare system could save over € 400,000."