For the medicine of tomorrow

The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) has celebrated its 25th anniversary with some 550 invited guests. At the same time, the Board of Directors honored five individuals to whom the MDC owes a large debt of gratitude, especially during the early years.

A swing band drew the last researchers out of the labs – after all, you don’t celebrate your 25th anniversary every day. The lights went out in the packed auditorium around eleven. On the screen, some 550 guests watched then German President Richard von Weizsäcker stepping out of a helicopter. Detlev Ganten hurried towards him. “Welcome to the Max Delbrück Center,” said the founding director. The footage was from December 7, 1992.


Today, the President of the Bundesrat and Governing Mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, has congratulated the MDC on its 25th anniversary: ​​“The institute started its work with some 350 employees in the 1990s. Today, this number has increased to 1,600, including many visiting scientists from around the world,” he says. Their work is successful, “because patients in medical care benefit from two innovative medicines that are based on MDC findings. This development was a stroke of luck, especially for the state of Berlin, whose scientific landscape has received a guarantor of successful research with the MDC.”

German Minister of Education and Research Prof. Johanna Wanka agreed: “The Max Delbrück Center in Berlin-Buch, which was founded in 1992 and emerged from the institutes of the former Academy of Sciences of the GDR, has become one of the world’s leading research institutes for life sciences in recent years. The Center’s success is based on a founding concept that continues to this day, along with a goal-oriented strategy that encompasses important areas of modern biomedical research.”

President of the Helmholtz Association, Prof. Otmar D. Wiestler, also congratulated the Center: “I offer my most heartfelt congratulations to the MDC on this special anniversary. It is held in high regard within the Helmholtz Association for its scientific approach, which uses basic molecular research as the foundation for developing innovative clinical applications. Furthermore, the MDC and its outstanding scientists represent an important partner in numerous scientific collaborations in Berlin and in other parts of Germany as well as internationally. I wish the center continued success in the future – and that patients may continue to benefit.”

“Breaking Barriers in Molecular Medicine” symposium

The anniversary events already started on November 30 with a scientific symposium. Some 250 visitors gathered to hear eight distinguished scientists, all with close ties to the MDC. For example, Prof. Maike Sander, Director of the UC San Diego Pediatric Diabetes Research Center, recalled that she was a student in Prof. Detlev Ganten’s Heidelberg laboratory when he was transferred to Berlin. For his part, Prof. Peer Bork went in the other direction: away from the former Academy of Sciences institutes to Heidelberg and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). The Israeli Nobel laureate Aaron Ciechanover also became acquainted with the MDC through several collaborations and visits. “25 years are nothing; the MDC is still young! It has many years ahead of it,” he said.

“It is an honor to welcome these distinguished scientists to the symposium at the MDC,” said Prof. Martin Lohse, Scientific Director of the MDC. “They show one of the hallmarks of the MDC. Those who want to improve treatment and diagnosis must first understand the mechanisms that underlie health and disease, which affect very different organs.”

Sixteen ERC grant winners work at the MDC today. The Center has contributed to two drugs launched in the last two years, and also picks up on new trends such as single-cell biology and makes a significant contribution to their development. For instance, news came in October 2017 that the MDC will coordinate a pilot project for the Human Cell Atlas – and further steps are already being planned. “We are happy to accept the challenge of being at the forefront of technological development,” said Martin Lohse.


The MDC’s success is not self-evident. For a long time after German reunification, it was unknown what would become of the closed central institutes of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR and their employees. There was a lot worth preserving, but at the same time it was clear that a renewal had to take place – a process that was painful for many. It was easy, however, to decide whom to name it after. The German-American biophysicist and Nobel laureate Max Delbrück stands for the courage to pursue one’s own ideas (no matter how unusual), the ability to think beyond the borders of individual disciplines, and the open-mindedness of an international perspective.

“The name gave us an identity,” says Detlev Ganten, the founding director. Max Delbrück was born in Berlin, and together with Karl Zimmer and Nicolai Timofeeff-Ressovsky, two researchers at the Berlin-Buch campus, he clarified the molecular basis of genes in 1935. Therefore, he is considered one of the founders of molecular biology. The MDC followed this tradition.

Many individuals have rendered outstanding contributions to the MDC. To mark the 25th anniversary of the MDC, the Board of Directors has introduced the research institute’s highest accolade to date. The award will be presented for the first time at the silver jubilee event on December 1, 2017. The Badge of Honor is made of silver and features a portrait of Max Delbrück, recreated from a photograph taken in 1969.


Prof. Heinz Riesenhuber served as Federal Minister of Research and Technology from 1982 to 1993. During his time in office, he witnessed the reunification of Germany and the merging of three research institutes from the Academy of Sciences of the GDR into the MDC. With a deep passion and understanding for science, coupled with great political courage, he and his colleagues laid the foundations that enabled the MDC to become the innovative research center it is today and to maintain its close integration of basic and clinical research.

Prof. Manfred Erhardt was Senator for Science and Research in the state of Berlin from 1991 to 1996. During this eventful time, he and his colleagues oversaw the successful restructuring of the scientific landscape in the new German capital, ensuring that the high quality of research conducted at the Berlin-Buch campus was able to continue and that new innovation could emerge. The Max Delbrück Center is greatly indebted to his dedication and political expertise.

Prof. Heinz Bielka is one of the MDC’s most dedicated supporters when it comes to tying together the research center’s past and future. He has made significant contributions to the MDC in his role as both a scientist and a science historian. An expert chronologist, Heinz Bielka has documented the history of medical research at the Berlin-Buch campus in numerous publications and books, making this knowledge available to a wide readership. The MDC and the Berlin-Buch campus can build on this “memory” as they continue to write history.

Physician, molecular biologist, and bioethicist Prof. Jens Reich has worked at the Berlin-Buch campus since 1968. His integrity, lucid analyses, and basic humanity set an example for all MDC employees. His conduct is always guided by ethical principles, and he still functions as an MDC ombudsman to this day, assisting researchers in situations of conflict. He is involved in animal welfare efforts and encourages debate on bioethical issues.

Prof. Detlev Ganten is the founding director of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine. He also headed the institute from 1992 to 2004. It is thanks to his dedication, powers of persuasion, scientific vision, and belief in the success of connecting basic and clinical research that the Berlin-Buch campus was led so successfully into a new millennium. With the MDC, he created an internationally recognized research institute that lays the foundations for the medical treatments of tomorrow.

Additional Information


Featured Picture: 25 Years of the Max Delbrück Center. Among the 550 guests were Thomas Rachel, Parliamentary Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF ); Prof. Heinz Riesenhuber, former Federal Minister; Michael Müller, President of the Federal Council and Governing Mayor of Berlin; Dr. Heike Wolke, MDC Administrative Director and Prof. Martin Lohse, MDC Scientific Director. Photo: David Ausserhofer / MDC