No. 31/December 20, 2011

MDC Researchers: Ion Channel Makes African Naked Mole-Rat Insensitive to Acid-Induced Pain

Researchers of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch have found out why the African naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber), one of the world’s most unusual mammals, feels no pain when exposed to acid. African naked mole-rats live densely packed in narrow dark burrows where ambient carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are very high. In body tissues, CO2 is converted into acid, which continuously activates pain sensors. However, naked mole-rats are an exception: they have an altered ion channel in their pain receptors that is inactivated by acid and makes the animals insensitive to this type of pain. Dr. Ewan St. John Smith and Professor Gary Lewin conclude that this pain insensitivity is due to the African mole-rats’ adaptation to their extreme habitat over the course of evolution (Science , Vol. 334, Dec.16, 2011, 1557-1560)*.

No. 30/December 14, 2011

Nikolaus Rajewsky of the MDC to Receive the Leibniz Prize – the Highest Honor Awarded in German Research

Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin is to receive Germany’s most prestigious research award, the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize. The announcement was made by the German Research Foundation (DFG) on Thursday, December 8, 2011. In 2002 Professor Carmen Birchmeier of the MDC received the award. Altogether, three Leibniz prizewinners are currently conducting research at the MDC. Professor Thomas Jentsch of the MDC/Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP) received the prize while working at the Center for Molecular Neurobiology of the University of Hamburg (ZMNH). The DFG named eleven researchers, two women and nine men as recipients of the 2012 award. They were selected from among 131 nominations. The Leibniz Prizes, each endowed with up to 2.5 million euros, will be presented in an award ceremony in Berlin on February 27, 2012.


No. 29/December 9, 2011

People with DFNA2 Hearing Loss Show Increased Touch Sensitivity

People with a certain form of inherited hearing loss have increased sensitivity to low frequency vibration, according to a study by Professor Thomas Jentsch of the Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP)/Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch and Professor Gary Lewin (MDC), conducted in cooperation with clinicians from Madrid, Spain and Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The research findings, which were published in Nature Neuroscience (doi:*, reveal previously unknown relationships between hearing loss and touch sensitivity: In order to be able to ‘feel’, specialized cells in the skin must be tuned like instruments in an orchestra.

No. 28/December 7, 2011

Humboldt Research Award for Nobel Laureate Aaron Ciechanover

Host Institution is the MDC

The Israeli Nobel Laureate Aaron Ciechanover has been named one of the recipients of the Humboldt Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH). His host institution in Germany shall be the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, a member of the Helmholtz Association. Professor Ciechanover is a physician and biologist and conducts research at the Faculty of Medicine of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The Humboldt Research Award is awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany to internationally renowned scientists and scholars in recognition of their entire achievements to date, and whose fundamental discoveries, theories, or insights have had a significant impact on their discipline. The award is valued at 60,000 euros.

No. 27/December 2, 2011

A Natural Dye Obtained from Lichens May Combat Alzheimer’s Disease

A red dye derived from lichens that has been used for centuries to color fabrics and food appears to reduce the abundance of small toxic protein aggregates in Alzheimer’s disease. The dye, a compound called orcein, and a related substance, called O4, bind preferentially to small amyloid aggregates that are considered to be toxic and cause neuronal dysfunction and memory impairment in Alzheimer’s disease. O4 binding to small aggregates promotes their conversion into large, mature plaques which researchers assume to be largely non-toxic for neuronal cells. Further research with animal models is needed to determine whether this new approach by Dr. Jan Bieschke (Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, MDC, Berlin-Buch), Dr. Martin Herbst (Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin) and Professor Erich Wanker (MDC) in Berlin, Germany, will be useful for therapy development (Nature Chemical Biology, doi:*.

No. 26/November 16, 2011

ERC Grants for Four Top Researchers from the MDC

Four researchers of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch will receive a total of eight million euros in research funding from the European Research Council (ERC) in Strasbourg. The two neurobiologists Professor Gary Lewin (MDC) and Professor Thomas Jentsch (MDC/Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie, FMP) will each receive an ERC Advanced Grant worth 2.5 million euros; the two junior research group leaders Professor Michael Gotthardt and Dr. Jan-Erik Siemens (both MDC) have each been awarded an ERC Starting Grant endowed with 1.5 million euros. The top researchers were selected from several thousand applicants. The ERC grants are for a period of five years and will begin in 2012.

No. 25/October 21, 2011

Max Delbrück Medal for Stem Cell Researcher Professor Hans Schöler

The stem cell researcher Professor Hans Schöler of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine, Münster, has been honored in Berlin with the Max Delbrück Medal. Hans Schöler, a leading scientist internationally in the field of stem cell research, received the medal for his research on the reprogramming of neural stem cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Pluripotent stem cells can give rise to each of the more than 200 cell types of an organism. That is why targeted, induced generation of these cells via reprogramming in the laboratory is of such great interest to researchers. They hope to be able to utilize these “all-rounder” cells in the future for the therapy of serious diseases.

No. 24/September 29, 2011

Dr. Malgorzata Borowiak – Helmholtz Young Investigators Award Enables Return to the MDC from Harvard

Dr. Malgorzata Borowiak, a researcher in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, USA, has been awarded a grant from the Helmholtz Association to return to the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany, as head of a Young Investigators Group. At the MDC, which is a member of the Helmholtz Association, Dr. Borowiak aims to contribute to diabetes research by studying the molecular basis of beta cell development. These cells, which produce insulin, a hormone essential for life, are defective in diabetics. Dr. Borowiak will also cooperate with Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

No. 23/September 20, 2011

Spiral Constriction – How Dynamin Mediates Cellular Nutrient Uptake MDC Researchers Determine the Structure of the ‘Wire-Puller’ Dynamin

Dr. Katja Fälber and Professor Oliver Daumke, structural biologists at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, together with researchers from Freie Universität (FU) Berlin, have determined the molecular structure of dynamin, a ‘wire-puller’ that mediates nutrient uptake into the cell. Since pathogens such as HIV can also enter the body’s cells in this way, understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms can potentially open up new approaches for medical applications (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature10369)*.

No. 22/September 13, 2011

Chancellor Angela Merkel Presses Starts Button for New State-of-the-Art Sequencer at the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin

Extended Potential for Medical Systems Biology

Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed the start button for a new state-of-the-art DNA sequencer during her visit on Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch. The BIMSB is the first academic research institution in Continental Europe to use this sequencer for research. With this device from Pacific Biosciences it is possible to sequence single DNA molecules in real time and gain deeper insight into gene regulation. Dr. Jonas Korlach, co-inventor of the PacBio technology and a native Berliner, was present at the ceremony. The Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom is currently the only other research institution in Europe with this sequencer.

No. 21/September 13, 2011

Chancellor Angela Merkel Visits Max Delbrück Center

Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) on Campus Berlin-Buch on Tuesday, September 13, 2011. The visit to the MDC was made at the invitation of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, Germany’s largest research organization, of which the MDC is a member. Chancellor Merkel was accompanied by Annette Schavan, Federal Minister of Education and Research. Jürgen Zöllner, Berlin’s Senator for Education, Science and Research, was also present during the visit.


No. 20/September 12, 2011

Professor Schöler: Simplifying the Generation of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Until recently, all four transcription factors of the quartet Oct4, Sox2, c-Myc and Klf4 were essential to successfully reprogram adult stem cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. In 2009 the research group of Professor Hans Schöler of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster succeeded for the first time in converting adult human cells into iPS cells using only one single gene, Oct4. "Among other advantages, this reduces the risk of transmitting cancer progenitor cells during potential therapeutic applications in the future," said Professor Schöler in a statement to the press at the international conference "Stem Cells in Development and Disease", organized by the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin.

No. 19/September 12, 2011

Professor Jaenisch: Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells – Great Potential but a Long Way to Go for Use in Therapy

"Stem cells generated from adult somatic cells have undisputed advantages for disease research and potentially one day even for individualized therapy. However, their widespread use may be further away in the future than is sometimes publicly predicted," said Professor Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute (Cambridge, MA, USA) in a statement to the press at the international conference "Stem Cells in Development and Disease", organized by the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin.

No 18/September 12, 2011

Professor Birchmeier: Cancer Stem Cells and Cancer Diseases

Stem cells, which can be generated from embryonic cells but also from adult human somatic cells, are highly potent – they can divide indefinitely and differentiate into different tissues. They thus have great potential for medical research and therapy. “Consequently, today stem cells are considered to be a miracle cure for future developments, although we are only at the beginning of a comprehensive understanding of the biology of stem cells,” said Professor Walter Birchmeier, research group leader at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), in a statement to the press at the international conference “Stem Cells in Development and Disease”, which is being held from September 12-14 from in Berlin-Buch.

No. 17/ August 4, 2011

Disappearance of Genetic Material Allows Tumor Cells to Grow

Loss of a gene regulator is crucial for a rare type of skin cancer

Scientists at the Max Delbrück Centrum für Molekulare Medizin (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Max-Planck-Institut für Molekulare Genetik Berlin, and four other German institutes have succeeded in proving a specific gene loss in a certain human lymphoma, the genesis of which is largely unexplained to date. The researchers investigated the Sézary syndrome, an aggressive cancer disease from the group of primary skin lymphomas, the so-called "primary cutaneous lymphomas." The results of the study, which were published in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine(Vol. 208, No. 8, 1585-1593; doi/10.1084/jem.20101785)*, provide fundamentally new insights into the genesis and development of Sézary syndrome and possibly other human lymphomas as well.

No. 16/August 2, 2011

Klaus Wowereit, Berlin’s Governing Mayor, and the Senate of Berlin Visit Campus Berlin-Buch and ‘Health City’

Klaus Wowereit, Governing Mayor of Berlin, and the Senate of Berlin today visited Berlin-Buch as part of the regular Senate meeting. The aim of the visit was to learn more about the rapid development which has taken place at Berlin-Buch during recent years. “Campus Berlin-Buch is one of the leading research and biotechnology locations in Germany along with Heidelberg and Munich,” said Prof. Walter Rosenthal, Scientific Director of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch and Supervisory Board Chairman of the development company of the campus, BBB Management GmbH Campus Berlin-Buch. The Campus had invited the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and the Berlin Senate to Berlin-Buch.

No. 15/July 19, 2011

MDC Welcomes Berlin Senate Decision

The MDC welcomes the decision of the Senate of Berlin to allocate approximately EUR 30 million for the new building of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) on Campus Nord of Humboldt University Berlin (HU). The BIMSB building will be 5500 m² in size and provide research and office space for around 300 employees. The annual operating costs of approximately EUR 20 million will be shared by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (90 percent) and by the State of Berlin (10 percent).

No. 14/ July 15, 2011

Novel DNA Sequencer for MDC’s Systems Biology Will Provide Deeper Insight into Gene Regulation

The Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin, Germany, will be the first academic research institution in Continental Europe to acquire a novel DNA sequencer enabling the sequencing of single DNA molecules in real time. The SMRT (single molecule, real-time) technology is also faster than current high-throughput technologies. The researchers of the BIMSB will use this third-generation sequencing technology, which was launched on the market in April 2011 by Pacific Biosciences, Menlo Park, California, USA, to gain deeper insight into gene regulation. The new sequencer, PacBio RS, will be installed in the BIMSB labs early in September.

No. 13/July 8, 2011

Why Patients with Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) Suffer Extreme Pain – MDC Researchers Discover Causes

For patients suffering from epidermolysis bullosa (EB), a hereditary skin disease, even a gentle touch is extremely painful. Now Dr. Li-Yang Chiang, Dr. Kate Poole and Professor Gary R. Lewin of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin-Buch have discovered the causes underlying this disease. Due to a genetic defect, individuals with EB cannot form laminin-332, a structural molecule of the skin that in healthy individuals inhibits the transduction of tactile stimuli and neuronal branching (Nature Neuroscience, doi: 10.1038/nn.2873)*. According to the findings of the MDC researchers, this explains why EB patients are more sensitive to touch and experience it as painful.

No. 12/July 5, 2011

New Methods Allow for Insights into Molecular Mechanisms of Regeneration

Researchers of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch have gained new insights into planarian flatworms, which are an attractive model for stem cell biology and regeneration. Close collaboration between four laboratories at the BIMSB led by Stefan Kempa, Christoph Dieterich, Nikolaus Rajewsky and Wei Chen has led to the identification of thousands of gene products, many of which are expressed and are important in stem cell function. This was achieved by precise characterization of all RNA-molecules expressed in the animals’ cells, the so-called transcriptome, without using the genome sequence (Genome Research, July 2011 21: 1193-1200)*.

No. 10/June 17, 2011

Tapeworm Drug Inhibits Colon Cancer Metastasis First Results in Mice – Clinical Trials Planned

A compound that for about 60 years has been used as a drug against tapeworm infection is also apparently effective against colon cancer metastasis, as studies using mice have now shown. The compound silences a gene that triggers the formation of metastases in colon cancer. Professor Ulrike Stein (Experimental and Clinical Research Center, a joint cooperation between the Charité Medical Faculty and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, (MDC)) and her research group made this discovery in collaboration with Professor Robert H. Shoemaker of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Frederick, Maryland, USA (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 103, No. 12, June 17, 2011)*. Plans are already underway with Professor Peter M. Schlag (Charité Comprehensive Cancer Center) to conduct a clinical trial.

No. 11/June 17, 2011

Astrocytes Appear to Play an Important Role in Brain Tumors

A special group of glial cells which have the form of stars and are therefore called astroglial cells or astrocytes, seem to play a crucial role in brain tumor development and dissemination. This was pointed out by Dr. Florian Siebzehnrubl (University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, USA) on Friday, June 17, 2011, at the Brain Tumor Meeting in the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany.

No. 9/June 16, 2011

How a Neural Stem Cell Turns into a Tumor Stem Cell – Researchers Identify Key Molecules for Brain Tumor Initiation

Glioblastomas, the most common and most aggressive brain tumors, apparently arise from neural stem cells (NSCs) in the brain. Researchers are now beginning to understand the mechanisms of how NSCs, which are present in small quantities in the adult brain and which are responsible for the production of new neurons, give rise to tumor stem cells. A number of factors have been identified that regulate the NSCs and cause them to differentiate, as scientists from Italy and Germany reported at the Brain Tumor Meeting 2011 at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany. With these findings, they hope to identify targets for a more effective treatment of glioblastomas and other brain tumors.

No. 8/ June 6, 2011

Survival Niche for Cancer Cells

Cancer cells do not grow equally well everywhere in the body. Often, they first create the conditions in which they can grow. Many years ago researchers discovered that solid tumors attract blood vessels to ensure their supply of nutrients by secreting specific factors. Now the immunologist Dr. Uta Höpken (Tumor and Immunogenetics Research Group at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, MDC, Berlin-Buch in the Helmholtz Association) and the hematologist Dr. Armin Rehm (Charité – Virchow-Klinikum, Department of Hematology, Oncology and Tumor Immunology, MDC) have shown for the first time that specific forms of lymphoma also create their own survival niche (Blood, doi:10.1182/blood-2010-11-321265)*.

No. 7/May 27, 2011

MDC Researchers Discover Key Molecule for Stem Cell Pluripotency

Researchers of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch have discovered what enables embryonic stem cells to differentiate into diverse cell types and thus to be pluripotent. This pluripotency depends on a specific molecule – E-cadherin – hitherto primarily known for its role in mediating cell-cell adhesion as a kind of “intracellular glue”. If E-cadherin is absent, the stem cells lose their pluripotency. The molecule also plays a crucial role in the reprogramming of somatic cells (body cells) into pluripotent stem cells (EMBO Reports, advance online publication 27 May 2011; doi:10.1038/embor.2011.88)*.

No. 6/May 19, 2011

From Gene to Protein – New Insights of MDC Researchers

How do genes control us? This fundamental question of life still remains elusive despite decades of research. Genes are blueprints for proteins, but it is the proteins that actually carry out vital functions in the body for maintaining life. Diseases such as cancer are not only characterized by altered genes, but also by disturbed protein production. But how is protein production controlled? Researchers of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch of the Helmholtz Association, Germany, have now comprehensively quantified gene expression (the activation of a gene for protein production) for the first time. According to their latest findings, control mainly occurs in the cytoplasm of the cell and not in the ‘high-security tract’ of the cell nucleus. The results also highlight where gene expression can get out of control. The research was enabled by the close collaboration of a team led by the biologists Björn Schwanhäusser,Matthias Selbach, the systems biologist Jana Wolf and the biologist Wei Chen of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) of the MDC (Nature doi:10.1038/nature10098)*

No. 5/May 12, 2011

Reining in Nicotine Use

MDC Researchers: Midbrain Habenula Region Plays Key Role in Nicotine Dependence

A person’s vulnerability to nicotine addiction appears to have a genetic basis, at least in part. A region in the midbrain called the habenula (from Latin: small reins) plays a key role in this process, as Dr. Inés Ibañez-Tallon and her team from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany, have now shown. They also shed light on the mechanism that underlies addiction to nicotine (Neuron, May,12, 2011, Vol. 70, Issue 3, pp: 522-535; DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.04.013)*.

No. 4/April 6, 2011

Neural Guidance Gene Regulates Liver Development

Scientists of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch (Germany) have demonstrated for the first time that a gene regulating neuronal cell migration during embryogenesis also plays a role in the development of the liver. Using zebrafish as a model organism, Dr. Christian Klein and Professor Ferdinand le Noble showed that the gene navigator-3 (abbreviated nav3a) regulates liver organogenesis. If nav3a is missing, the liver cannot develop (Development 2011, doi:10.1242/dev.056861)*. “Moreover, first evidence indicates,” Dr. Klein said, “that the expression of this gene is dysregulated during the pathogenesis of liver diseases in humans.”

No. 3/March 23, 2011

Professor Oliver Daumke of MDC Receives Bayer Early Excellence in Science Award

Biochemist and protein crystallographer Professor Oliver Daumke of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany, was honored with the Bayer Early Excellence in Science Award 2010 in the biology category on Wednesday, March 23, 2011. He was awarded the prize worth EUR 10,000 for his contributions to the understanding of the structure and function of GTP-binding proteins (G proteins).

No. 2/February 16, 2011

Researchers Link Gene Mutations to Ebstein’s Anomaly

Ebstein’s anomaly is a rare congenital valvular heart disease. Now, in patients with this disease, researchers of the Academic Medical Center Amsterdam in the Netherlands, the University of Newcastle, UK and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch have identified mutations in a gene which plays an important role in the structure of the heart. The researchers hope that these findings will lead to faster diagnosis and novel, more specifically targeted treatment methods (Circulation Cardiovascular Genetics, DOI: 10.1161/CIRCGENETICS.110.957985)*.

No. 1/ January 26, 2011

MDC Researchers and Clinical Partners Identify Mediator of Blood Pressure Regulation in the Liver - Pressor Reflex Triggered Simply by Drinking Water

For 60 years, scientists have puzzled over the possibility of a hepatic osmoreceptor that influences blood pressure regulation. Now, researchers of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC) of the MDC and Charité and the Hannover Medical School (MHH) appear to have made a breakthrough discovery. Dr. Stefan Lechner and Professor Gary R. Lewin (both of MDC), Professor Friedrich C. Luft (ECRC) and Professor Jens Jordan (ECRC; now MHH) have discovered a new group of sensory neurons in the mouse liver which mediates the regulation of blood pressure and metabolism. This peripheral control center outside of the brain is triggered simply by drinking water and leads to an elevation of blood pressure in sick and elderly people. (Neuron, Vol. No. 69 (2) pp. 332-344)*