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Prof. Walter Birchmeier new Scientific Director of the Max Delbrück Center

Prof. Walter Birchmeier is the new Scientific Director of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch. The MDC Board of Trustees appointed him to the position for a period of three years, effective as of January 1, 2006. As the former deputy chairman of the MDC Executive Board, Prof. Birchmeier had served as interim director since April 2004. As Scientific Director, his aim will be to strengthen research in molecular medicine and, in particular, to promote the collaboration between basic and clinical researchers. Through a collaboration between the MDC and the Charité Medical School Berlin, he plans to establish an Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC) devoted to translational research.

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.

Prof. Walter Birchmeier new Scientific Director of the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin (Photographer: David Ausserhofer/Copyright: MDC)

Barbara Bachtler
Press and Public Affairs
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10
13125 Berlin
Phone.: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
Fax:  +49 (0) 30
94 06 - 38 33

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