Brain organoids

Tracking development cell by cell is ‘Breakthrough of the Year’ – Berlin-based MDC is a hot spot for such research

The U.S. journal Science has chosen single-cell analysis as the Breakthrough of the Year. A major international hot spot for the revolutionary technology is the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin. The European consortium LifeTime, which is coordinated from Berlin and Paris, intends to focus on this new approach.

Researchers at the Max Delbrück Center are pleased with the decision of the journal Science to name single-cell analysis the 2018 Breakthrough of the Year. Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky, head of the MDC’s Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB), said on Friday in Berlin: “Single-cell analyses will transform the next decade of research. Gaining an understanding of how individual cells develop and their roles in health and disease will profoundly change our lives and the clinical sciences. I’m excited that the European LifeTime consortium is at the leading edge of this revolution.”

With the help of mini organs - such as brain organoids here - the techniques of single cell analysis can also be applied to human tissue. Researchers can see how human cells mature in the course of life, how tissue regenerates and which changes lead to diseases.

Personalized medicine is the goal

Single-cell analysis is a young, important branch of basic genetic research. Scientists are trying, with the help of highly sensitive methods, to simultaneously understand how thousands of cells develop and specialize. They are using cutting-edge technologies to mark individual cells in the embryo, to perform mass DNA sequencing, and to analyze the RNA that translates genetic information in the cell into, for example, proteins. Groups are also employing the latest advances in artificial intelligence to analyze the gigantic amounts of data generated by such studies.

The researchers want to develop a detailed understanding of not only which genes are switched on and off but also when this takes place, as well as of how such interaction gives rise to organs and entire organisms. They ultimately aim to learn what occurs when cells age, when cells regenerate, and when diseases emerge. “The long-term goal is to detect signs of disease as early as possible at the cellular level so as to quickly prevent disease progression through appropriate treatments tailored to individual patients,” says Rajewsky.

The editors of the journal Science have now selected single-cell analysis as the Breakthrough of the Year. According to Science, the single-cell revolution is just starting.

An international consortium

In Europe in early 2018, a consortium called “LifeTime” was established to collectively advance single-cell analysis. The two largest European research organizations – Germany’s Helmholtz Association and France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) – are playing a major role in the project. More than 60 scientists at 53 institutions in 18 European countries are supporting the LifeTime consortium, as are 60 partners from industry.

LifeTime is jointly coordinated by the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) and the Institut Curie in Paris.

Further information


Single-cell analysis at the MDC in Berlin: