Joint PRESS RELEASE by the BIH, MDC and Charité: Single cells go clinical - BIH, MDC and Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin launch a new research focus

Three Berlin research institutions – the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), and Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin – are launching a joint research initiative. The goal is to use innovative single cell technologies to answer clinical research questions. 

In 2018, the journal Science named new technologies that can be used to analyze individual body cells its “Breakthrough of the Year.” For the first time it was possible to break down entire organs, tumors, even entire insect larvae into individual cells, measure their gene activity, and – with the help of high-performance computers and artificial intelligence – reassemble these individual cell analyses to form the entire organ or organism. This breakthrough was made possible in part by research conducted at BIMSB. “It was as if we had invented a super microscope with which we could suddenly look inside every cell in a tissue, all the cells at once, and see what was going on at the molecular level inside the cell – for example, when and why it gets sick,” explains Nikolaus Rajewsky, Scientific Director of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC), and spokesperson for the BIH’s new focus area “Single Cell Technologies for Personalized Medicine.”

State-of-the-art technologies for clinical use

At the core of the new focus area are three new, internationally appointed junior research groups. They will study various diseases at the level of individual cells in order to systematically characterize them at the molecular level and to develop new methods to better diagnose and treat these diseases. The junior research groups will be located at BIMSB, and thus in close proximity to Charité’s Berlin-Mitte campus. At BIMSB, they will have access to the latest single cell methods and systems biology expertise. Each junior research group will also work closely with a clinician at Charité, helping to develop single cell technologies for specific medical issues and clinical application. “I therefore consider this initiative to be the beginning of a ‘Cell Hospital,’ in which the basic research of the MDC/BIMSB, the clinical research of Charité, and the translational research of the BIH are brought together,” explains Rajewsky. “The idea is not only to understand the mechanisms that cause cells to become diseased, but also to discover these cells early enough to restore them to health before a disease takes such a hold that it can only be treated with great difficulty – or invasively and expensively.”

Following a highly competitive recruitment process, twelve applicants for the junior group leader positions have been invited to a public symposium held in Berlin on February 6, 2020, to present their previous scientific work in the field of single cell biology and their ideas for its clinical application. These scientists come from some of the world’s leading institutions in the United States, Israel, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Germany. The selection committee includes BIMSB research group leaders and hospital directors from Charité who have expressed interest in the new focus area. Among them are representatives from oncology, neurology, infectious diseases, cardiovascular diseases and rare diseases. Professor Axel R. Pries, Dean of Charité - Universitätsmedizin and interim Chairman of the BIH Executive Board, explains: “The selection criteria include scientific excellence, the ability to fit into a clinical setting, and the potential to transfer research results into clinical application.”

Significant progress expected

The recruitment symposium marks the scientific kick-off for the work of the BIH and MDC’s new focus area “Single Cell Technologies for Personalized Medicine.” Nikolaus Rajewsky is confident about the future: “I am sure that we will make significant progress – not for all, of course, but for some diseases. This new focus area allows a bridge to be built, and thus translation to be achieved, between basic research and the clinic. The immediate proximity of BIMSB/MDC, Charité and BIH will enable a great deal of innovation and long-term progress for patients.”

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About the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH)
The Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) is a biomedical research institution focusing on translational research and precision medicine. The BIH is dedicated to improving the prediction in progressive diseases and developing advanced therapies for unmet medical needs in order to improve patients’ health and quality of life. The Institute is committed to providing research solutions and innovation enabling value-based, personalized healthcare. The BIH is funded 90% by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and 10% by the State of Berlin. The two founding institutions, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC), are independent, member entities within the BIH.

About the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)
The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) was founded in Berlin in 1992. It is named for the German-American physicist Max Delbrück, who was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. The MDC’s mission is to study molecular mechanisms in order to understand the origins of disease and thus be able to diagnose, prevent, and fight it better and more effectively. In these efforts the MDC cooperates with Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) as well as with national partners such as the German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) and numerous international research institutions. More than 1,600 staff and guests from nearly 60 countries work at the MDC, just under 1,300 of them in scientific research. The MDC is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (90 percent) and the State of Berlin (10 percent), and is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.

About Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin is one of the largest university hospitals in Europe, boasting approximately 100 departments and institutes spread across 4 separate campuses. The hospital offers a total of 3,001 beds and, in 2018, treated 152,693 in- and day case patients, in addition to 692,920 outpatients. At Charité, the areas of research, teaching and medical care are closely interlinked. With approximately 18,000 members of staff employed across its group of companies, Charité is one of the largest employers in Berlin. Approximately 4,500 of its employees work in the field of nursing, with a further 4,300 working in research and medical care. In 2018, Charité recorded a turnover of more than €1.8 billion, and set a new record by securing more than €170.9 million in external funding. Charité’s Medical Faculty is one of the largest in Germany, educating and training more than 7,500 medical and dentistry students. Charité also offers 619 training positions across 9 different health care professions.