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The guests from the Senate came with positive expectations: “The BIH is on the right track,” Permanent Secretary Naghipour, who is also Deputy Chair of the BIH Governing Board, said in praise of the Institute. “Its development in just 10 years into an important player in Berlin’s health scene with national and international appeal impresses and pleases me at the same time. For it means that the BIH is helping Berlin in its role as a research location, while also providing benefits to many patients going forward.” Permanent Secretary Götz concurred: “The BIH, along with Charité, plays a crucial role in the healthcare hub of Berlin: This is where tomorrow’s therapies are being created.”

Professor Christopher Baum, Scientific Director of the BIH and Chief Translational Research Officer of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, began by giving the visitors an introduction to the Institute, whose core mission is to advance translational medicine: “We turn research into health,” Baum said, paraphrasing the BIH’s motto. “This involves transferring research findings into clinical practice and vice versa, using clinical observations to develop new ideas for research projects. We focus in particular on application-oriented research and support scientists in transferring their ideas to the market.”

New project focuses on gene therapy

Baum followed his introduction with a presentation of a new project in the field of gene therapy. Recently, Berlin’s Senator for Higher Education and Research, Health, Long-Term Care and Gender Equality, Ulrike Gote, signed a memorandum in which the State of Berlin, Charité, and the pharma group Bayer pledged a joint commitment to fostering the further development of this cutting-edge technology. “With our expertise, we can really make a strong contribution to this project,” explained Baum, who used to conduct his own gene therapy research. “Particularly for rare diseases, there is a serious medical need that is not yet being met by conventional therapies. Gene therapy represents a massive opportunity to get to the root causes of these diseases, which are usually the result of a single genetic defect, and at least be able to better treat them – if not cure them completely.”

Prof. Sylvia Thun, director of Digital Medicine and Interoperability at the BIH, then explained to the guests the meaning of the term interoperability, using the example of chronically ill patients: “General practitioners record information on age, weight, height, diagnoses, and lab values in their own software, but patients use a modern app to keep ongoing track themselves of blood pressure measurements. Medications are entered in the medication plan or are noted on an electronic prescription. If you now want to find out which hypertension drug works best for this patient without any side effects or interactions with other drugs, you are faced with an almost unsolvable task.” This is exactly where Thun and her team come in and develop standards for the collection and analysis of health data.

An important topic at the BIH is gender equality. Administrative Director Dr. Michael Frieser explained the BIH’s various policies in this regard: “At our Institute, all bodies of academic self-administration have a balanced representation of men and women. We promote young female scientists through the BIH Johanna Quandt Professorships, which specifically target women but are open to all topics. Our Female Career Program provides women with career development support in the form of coaching and other offerings. And the BIH Gender Equality Fund helps women with family responsibilities, for instance, by providing grants for student assistants. Some 43% of all professors at the BIH are female, a figure far higher than the German average of 26% and even higher than the already high Berlin average of 33.5%.”

BIH Johanna Quandt Professor Kirsten Kübler emphasized the importance of gender and diversity in research and therapy. The head of the Department of Early Cancer Development and Prevention reported on differences in cancer incidence rates between men and women. "In addition, populations of diverse ethnicity have different survival rates. African Americans with cancer, for example, have higher death rates than other ethnic groups in the United States” said Kirsten Kübler, who is also associated at Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute in Cambridge, USA. She pointed out that further research, especially in the field of tumor biology, is needed to better understand the causes of these differences. "Such analyses have the potential for social and scientific benefit, following Aristotle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

Last but not least, Prof. Ulrich Dirnagl, founding director of the BIH QUEST Center, and Sarah Hedtrich, BIH Johanna Quandt Professor for Translational Organ Models, spoke about how responsible research is being promoted at the BIH. “Only when scientific findings are based on solid, reproducible research can they be translated into human applications,” stressed Dirnagl. “The BIH QUEST Center supports scientists in checking the quality of their research and adhering to standards.” In this context, Prof. Hedtrich is concerned about the issue of animal research: “Not all results from animal experiments are transferable to humans. In my laboratory, we are using cultured human lung and skin models to develop new therapies for lung and skin diseases. These models mimic human health and disease processes better than many animal models, thus allowing for few experiments with animals.”

Pressekontakt / Press contact

Katharina Kalhoff: +49 1515 7579574

Ole Kamm: +49 1522 5610126

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