Research and education are important for our future, believes Kerstin Radomski. And so it was only logical that Radomski, a CDU Bundestag member who serves on the Budget Committee, would take time in early August, during the parliamentary summer recess, to visit the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC). After all, budgetary decision-makers want to see and experience first-hand where the funds go that they allocate. The MDC is funded 90 percent by the German Federal Government 10 percent by the State of Berlin.
The program for Radomski’s visit, which was prepared by Professor Heike Graßmann, Administrative Director of the MDC, along with seven scientists at the Center, gave insights into the system-wide research approaches used by the MDC’s labs. Professor Norbert Hübner, Deputy Scientific Director of the MDC, explained why this is so crucial: “Diseases tend to extend beyond individual tissues and organs and affect the entire organism.” The research labs therefore often collaborate with each other in a flexible and interdisciplinary manner.
In their presentations, the scientists focused on four fields of research: Dr. Henrike Maatz presented the latest findings in cardiovascular research. She gave an overview of the “cell atlas of the human heart,” which is currently being created by the MDC and a host of international partners. “One could also describe it as Google Maps for the heart,” says Maatz. “We can not only map and navigate the landscape of the heart in great detail, but even open the doors of individual homes – i.e. cells – and explore what is inside.” The heart atlas will help scientists to understand down to the minutest detail how specific disease processes such as cardiomyopathies, a leading cause of heart failure, work in order to develop specific therapeutic approaches. By using the latest single-cell sequencing methods, the team of researchers are able to gain increasingly deeper and highly granular insights into the processes that occur in every individual cell in the human body.
Dr. Uta Höpken and Dr. Roland Schwarz presented promising avenues in cancer research. Höpken explained how researchers at the MDC are developing targeted designer immune cells to attack tumors, using a method that focuses entirely on the personalized treatment of malignancies such as lymphomas. Schwarz stressed the growing importance of bioinformatics in the prevention and treatment of cancer. “Data science enables us to analyze the truly enormous quantities of data that have been amassed on the many different types of cancer and from many patients, thus allowing us to understand the disease better and better. We want to find out, for example, why some smokers are less susceptible to cancer than other smokers,” said Schwarz. Such knowledge, he added, could lead to better preventive strategies.
Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky, Deputy Scientific Director of the MDC and Director of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB), took a look into the future. He outlined the plans of Berlin’s scientific community to establish a “Berlin Cell Hospital,” a place for cell-based medicine, where single-cell analysis done in close collaboration between research teams and physicians should ultimately enable human diseases to be detected and treated at the earliest possible stage. “Cell-based medicine offers huge potential to improve the health system,” said Rajewsky. “And Germany is at the forefront of this field in Europe.”
The parliamentarian’s visit was rounded out by a tour of Professor Markus Landthaler’s lab, whose research is currently focused on SARS-CoV-2. In conversations with Landthaler and Dr. Emanuel Wyler, Kerstin Radomski learned about the latest advances in virus research and possible new tests for viruses. “For us, it is very important that we collaborate closely with our partners, especially Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin,” said Wyler. “We operate in networks and use the latest technologies,” added Landthaler, stressing that “in doing so, we want to make it possible to use the data already existing at the MDC from other projects in Covid-19 research.”
Kerstin Radomski, herself a biology graduate, was impressed by the work of the MDC. “You do basic research and at the same work closely with clinics and collaborate on concrete problems. Such a transfer of knowledge is of vital importance. I wish you every success,” said the politician.