Lab scene – at the microscope

Research Approach

Uncovering the processes underlying life

The MDC's research has a long-time goal: to advance medicine today and in the future. Its broad thematic orientation enables highly networked and collaborative projects providing insights into many different aspects of life and disease.

Our labs deal with fundamental questions of health and disease, while at the same time focusing on small details – such as the intricate workings of an ion channel or a receptor. Exploring these molecular mechanisms and translating the findings as quickly as possible into medical applications is the MDC's mission.

Best conditions for highly collaborative basic research

The MDC integrates its activities in the research program of the Helmholtz Association with a focus on three areas: cancer, diseases of the nervous system, and cardiovascular and metabolic disease. The MDC's Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology complements this focus with the 'systemic view' of biology – providing snapshots of the intricate regulatory networks between proteins and nucleic acids, inside cells and organisms.

This combination of topics makes the MDC's research approach truly unique. To start an interdisciplinary project, scientists sometimes just have to walk across the hallway and ask their colleagues for their opinion.

Collaborative approaches to tackle the task of system-wide disease

Biomedical research increasingly relies on crossing boundaries, stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. The traditional way to health research works in a rather organ-specific manner. But we cannot understand or treat most severe diseases if we consider just the organ that seems to be primarily affected.

The work bench of a researcher at the MDC

A good example is chronic heart failure, where we find not only a weak heart, but also changes in blood vessels and hormonal systems, in kidneys and brain and even in the immune system. And as a consequence, heart failure therapies work only if we consider the organism as a whole and address all of these complex and interrelated mechanisms.

Collaborative and interdisciplinary work has long been a hallmark of MDC science. Our researchers cover the entire range of methods and levels of analysis – from basic to translational science. They collaborate closely with each other to develop diagnostics and preventive and therapeutic approaches that embrace the complexity of diseases.

That's why the MDC's research areas do not exist isolation: the cross-organ approach is deeply engrained into its research approach.

Clinical translation from “bench to bedside” and back again

Translational research and working with patients is at the heart of the MDC's mission

An increasing number of basic researchers from the MDC are working with physicians within the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC) which acts as an interface between the Charité and MDC. Twelve of the Charité’s university outpatient clinics are situated in close vicinity to the MDC's main research building. The many patients that come here are participating in clinical trials. This way, researchers can find out what people really need.

The Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), founded in 2013 to address systems medicine issues, further strengthens the partnership between the Charité and MDC. Its funding programs, large-scale collaborative projects and joint appointments allow discoveries made in molecular biology to be more swiftly translated into patient care.

The German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) was co-founded by the MDC to translate new findings from cardiovascular research into improved therapeutic, diagnostic, and preventive procedures as quickly as possible. The MDC is a core partner institution of the Center.

One main focal area is personalized medicine – an approach whereby instead of treating all patients with the same method, and thus in some cases having to deal with unbeneficial side effects, each patient receives specially tailored treatment. This means administering the right molecule or the correct cell therapy or immunotherapy at just the right time.

Our technology transfer office is actively scouting for ideas and projects, and supports the process of turning these ideas into reality. During the last two years, two new drugs have reached the market in Europe and the United States that represent entirely new therapeutic principles based on research at the MDC: the cancer drug Blincyto and a new treatment for bleeding disorders, VONVENDI. We are proud of these recent successes and constantly strive for new opportunities.

Development of new technologies

New technologies often provide the momentum for breakthroughs in basic science and biomedicine. The MDC maintains a leading position in fields like the analysis of single cells, the sequencing of RNA and DNA, and multidimensional omics technologies.

New technologies – like the fast-moving field of optical microscopy – often provide the momentum for breakthroughs in science

Optical microscopy is a field where the MDC aims to adopt a leading role in the future. Today's imaging is a fast-moving field and a key technology. The developments of the last years provide unparalleled resolution and penetration into healthy or pathological tissues and cells.

At the heart of the MDC's approach to new technologies are its technology platforms. These central facilities provide standardized sets of experiments as a service to other scientists. They also collaborate with others or tailor and develop existing technology applications to the specific needs of the individual project. This powerful approach leads to quick and reliable results as well as patentable innovation.

Attracting great talent from all around the globe

All these developments would not be possible without attracting the brightest minds to the MDC – graduate students, postdoctoral fellows as well as established researchers. We support these scientists in their individual development and to aid them at their respective levels on their paths to scientific independence and excellence.

Over 360 PhD students and around 230 postdocs are currently engaged in research at the MDC. With the Helmholtz Graduate School in Molecular Cell Biology, doctoral students benefit from a structured PhD program that the MDC set up in collaboration with Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, and Charité. In addition to their lab-based projects, students can acquaint themselves with new technologies in workshops, attend seminars and lectures, and network with each other at events such as retreats. Some students also participate in the MDC’s thematically focused programs.

The Berlin Institute of Health’s PhD scholarships for medical students and its Clinician Scientist Program help lay the foundations for collaboration beyond the borders of basic research and medicine. The schemes give physicians the space they need to do research during their training.