Through his own research at the MDC, Prof. Walter
Birchmeier has been promoting the concept of molecular medicine for many years.
Disturbances in one gene or pathway often affect various organs and can result
in severe disease. Molecular-oriented research, the aim of which is to
understand basic mechanisms of disease processes, must, therefore, extend
across the boundaries of traditional medicine.
In the early 1980s, Walter Birchmeier’s laboratory
discovered a molecule required for the adhesion of epithelial cells. The group
went on to identify the mechanism by which this molecule is down-regulated in
cancer, leading to a disruption of epithelial organization and the generation
of invasive and metastatic tumor cells. Further important findings of his
research were the identification of signaling molecules which transmit
information from the cell surface to the nucleus. Such molecules play critical
roles in both tumorigenesis, as well as in other diseases, such as in
cardiomyopathies. Furthermore, he showed that certain signal transduction
pathways control development of the nervous system, production of stem cells in
the skin, as well as the formation of internal organs.
Prof. Birchmeier has published more than one hundred
scientific articles and received several awards for his work including the
Wilhelm Warner Prize for Cancer Research in 1990, the Meyenburg Prize for
Cancer Research in 1992, and the German Cancer Prize in 1999. He is a member of
the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and a corresponding member
of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMS).
Walter Birchmeier was born on July 8, 1943 in Würenlingen
(Aargau Canton), Switzerland. After working as an elementary school teacher, he
studied biology at the University of Zürich where he received his PhD degree.
He moved to the United States in 1973 to do postdoctoral research, first with
Jeff Schatz at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and later with Jon Singer
at the University of California in San Diego. He returned to Europe in 1979,
accepting a position at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich, Switzerland, and, in 1982,
went to work as the head of a research group at the Friedrich Miescher
Laboratory of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Tübingen, Germany. In 1988, he was
appointed as Full Professor for Molecular Cell Biology at the University Clinic
in Essen, Germany. He has lead his research group at the MDC since 1993 and was
appointed professor at the Charité Medical School Berlin in 1996. In 1998, he
became Deputy Scientific Director of the MDC.
Founded in 1992, the MDC conducts interdisciplinary
research into cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and neurological disorders
(Molecular Medicine). Scientists at the MDC apply molecular biology and genetic
engineering to study genes and their products (i.e., proteins) and their role
in the onset of complex diseases. Combining basic and clinical research, MDC
scientists collaborate closely with clinicians of the Charité University
Medicine and the Helios Klinikum Berlin-Buch. The MDC is a member of the
Helmholtz Association of National Research Centres and employs a staff of 750.
It receives 90 per cent of its funding from the German Federal Ministry of
Education and Research (BMBF), and 10 per cent from the state (Land) of Berlin.Barbara Bachtler
Press and Public Affairs
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)
Phone.: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
Fax: +49 (0) 30
94 06 - 38 33