Burkhard Tümmlers lifelong commitment to cystic fibrosis patients – a success story

For 40 years, Prof. Dr. Dr. Burkhard Tümmler has carried out research on cystic fibrosis (CF), also known as mucoviscidosis, at Hannover Medical School (MHH). In 2011, when the German Center for Lung Research (DZL) was founded and BREATH was established at the MHH, it was a matter of course that Professor Tümmler‘s working group would be a part of the DZL. He is now retiring and can look back on an extremely positive résumé as the situation of CF sufferers has improved enormously in the 40 years of his research.

When Prof. Tümmler returned to the MHH in 1983 from his post-doc time in Toronto (Canada), the average lifespan of CF sufferers was about 25 years. Since then, there have been many advances in CF and Prof. Tümmler and his team have made a significant contribution to the longer life expectancy and improved quality of life of CF patients. Research work on cystic fibrosis began in 1983 in the Department of Biophysical Chemistry at the MHH. From 1992, this work was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft as the Clinical Research Group ‚Molecular Pathology of Cystic Fibrosis‘  and in 1998 transferred to the Clinic of Pediatric Pneumology, Allergology and Neonatology. Since 2012, the group has also been actively involved in BREATH. Together with his team, he attempted to better understand the genetic and infectiological basis of cystic fibrosis in order to find new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. In their work for the DZL, they studied, amongst other things, the genetic differences between twin and sibling pairs with CF. 

After 40 years at the MHH and 12 years at the DZL, Prof. Tümmler is now retiring. During this time, CF research has been extremely successful and has greatly improved the quality of life of those affected. In 1989, the CF-triggering gene CFTR (cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator) was discovered and laid the foundation for a causal therapy for CF. Since 2016, every newborn child receives CF screening in order to provide therapy at an early age. In 2020, the triple therapy with Elexacaftor-Tezacaftor-Ivacaftor was given approval in Germany and since then has been used successfully in many cases. BREATH scientists recently studied the possible connection between this new therapy possibility and lung transplants in endstage CF sufferers. They noticed a marked decrease in the number of transplants in 2020 and 2021 compared to those in 2012-2019. In the majority of patients on the waiting list for a transplant who received the new triple therapy, their state of health improved so much that a transplant was no longer necessary. Similar results had also been published in France and USA (find publication here). „We are dedicating this article to Prof. Tümmler and would thus like to acknowledge his scientific career in the fight against cystic fibrosis“ says PD Dr. Felix Ringshausen, author of the study and for many years a colleague of Prof. Tümmler. 

Thanks to the cystic fibrosis research carried out over recent decades, to which Prof. Tümmler has made a vast contribution, the average lifespan of a newborn with cystic fibrosis is today 57 years. In this statement, the effects of the new triple therapy are not yet taken into account. Thanks to the tireless commitment of researchers like Prof. Tümmler, those suffering from pulmonary diseases such as CF are now being given the chance of a noticeable improvement. 

We look forward to further research results from Prof. Tümmler’s working group, which will now be led by Prof. Dr. Anna-Maria Dittrich together with PD Dr. Frauke Stanke and Dr. Antje Munder. 
We wish Prof. Tümmler all the best for his retirement although we are sure that we will continue to see him often in the MHH. He can still see a great deal of potential in the field of microbiome research and would like to give this his support. „In Germany, research in the field of the microbiome is already first-class. The scientists involved here aim to achieve success for the DZL, and I would like to actively support this“, says Professor Tümmler glancing at the future research on the microbiome of the airways.


Foto Tümmler: MHH/ Tom Figiel

Foto Ringshausen: privat

Prof. Dr. Dr. Burkhard Tümmler

PD Dr. Felix C. Ringshausen, first author of the publication on lung transplants in people with CF