We investigate the root causes of disease
Medical research has reduced pain and suffering and saved the lives of millions of people. But for most human diseases, existing treatments only relieve symptoms rather than addressing the root cause of a problem. With the basic research we carry out at the MDC, we want to help change that. We investigate what causes diseases to help better recognize, treat and prevent them. At the current level of science, we will not be able to make advances in biomedical research without the use of animal testing for the foreseeable future.
A large part of biomedical research is not dependent on animal experiments. Scientists often work with molecules, cells, tissue cultures, or computer models. Experiments that use human cell material and epidemiological studies also deliver valuable results. The work of many groups at the MDC is solely based on such methods, which do not involve animals. We cannot, however, work entirely without animals, so other groups use a combination of animal experiments and other methods.
Animal experiments are essential
Animal testing is an integral part of biomedical research. It is usually the only way researchers can determine the influence of genes or a new active therapeutic substance on the functions of complex organ systems such as the cardiovascular or nervous system.
If we want to gain detailed knowledge of how the human body works or simply understand what happens when it is afflicted by a disease, we have to examine the living organism as a whole. Understanding and treating diseases requires taking into account the interactions between various cell types and organs. No test tube experiment, however sophisticated, can simulate Alzheimer’s disease, and even the best computer simulations have to be verified on living organisms.
Biomedical research at the MDC focuses on a wide range of scientific questions. The methods and organisms that are used depend on the particular question under investigation: Scientists at the MCD work primarily with rodents – i.e. mice and rats – but also with zebrafish, frogs, fruit flies, flatworms and threadworms. For more information, see the “Facts and figures” section.
Genetically modified animals
Recent decades have seen the development of an important branch of research based on genetically modified animals. Nowadays the genes of mice, rats and zebrafish are easy to modify. Some of the animals used at the MDC contain altered genetic material with additional or “silenced” genes.
Such transgenic animals can be used as models to investigate a variety of diseases, for example by ascertaining the role that specific genes play in biology or a disease. If a gene is silenced in mice, and they develop diabetes or high blood pressure, this is an indication that the gene that has been modified may play a role in these conditions.
With the help of the mice, the causes and developments of diseases can be investigated and understood at a molecular level.
Such experiments can also contribute to the development of new drugs.