SPD Bundestag members Michael Müller and Ruppert Stüwe visit the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH)
On Wednesday, June 8, 2022, members of the German Bundestag Michael Müller and Ruppert Stüwe, both of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), visited the Berlin Institute of Health at the Charité (BIH). As former mayor and science senator of Berlin, Müller actively oversaw the BIH’s integration into Charité. On his most recent visit, he was particularly interested in the effects of the merger on collaborations both within Charité and with the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC). Stüwe is a member of the Bundestag’s Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment and the SPD’s rapporteur on health research. He was mainly interested in the transfer of research findings into practical use, and thus in the BIH’s mission of medical translation.
Prof. Christopher Baum, Scientific Director of the BIH and Chief Translational Research Officer of Charité – Universitätsmedizin, 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.”
The BIH after integration
Before its integration, the BIH was an independent link between Charité and the MDC. Now, the Institute forms the third pillar of Charité as its translational research unit – and the MDC is its “privileged partner.” The visiting politicians were able to see for themselves how this structural reorganization has fostered even better cooperation between the institutions. Prof. Fabian Prasser, head of the Medical Informatics Group at the BIH, used the example of a platform that provides joint access to research data to highlight the successful cooperation with Charité, saying: “The BIH has outstanding expertise in the field of data integration. Together with scientists and clinicians at Charité, we are able to overcome real challenges in translational information processing and develop innovative solutions, methods and projects that will make an impact far beyond the walls of the BIH and Charité.” Dr. Stefanie Großwendt leads the BIH junior research group “From Cell Status to Function,” which conducts its work at the MDC’s Berlin Institute for Molecular Systems Biology (BIMSB). Three other junior research groups are also based at BIMSB, which was jointly established by the BIH, Charité and the MDC to promote breakthroughs in single-cell technologies. “My group works closely with colleagues from the MDC,” said Großwendt. “We use the same infrastructures and come together at meetings. We also cooperate with the pediatric oncologists at Charité to bring our findings in single-cell research into clinical application.”
Successfully turning research into practice
Dr. Samuel Knauss, a neurologist at Charité and fellow of the BIH Charité Clinician Scientist Program, presented the company mTOMADY as one example of successful technology transfer. Together with co-founder Dr. Julius Emmrich and the entire mTOMADY team, Knauss has developed a “digital health wallet” for Africa that enables even poorer patients to see a doctor in an emergency. Users of the service can securely and efficiently send, save and spend funds for medical treatments via a mobile phone-based system. Since the beginning of 2021, mTOMADY has also been working with the government in Madagascar and three health insurance companies in the country to reach patients in primarily remote regions. The young developers received support for their project from the BIH’s Digital Health Accelerator Program. They also had access to expert mentors with valuable experience in areas like software and product development and mobile technology, and received help with the process of launching a spin-off. mTOMADY gGmbH has been up and running since December 2020 and is already active in three African countries.
Finally, Christopher Baum presented a new project in the field of gene therapy. Recently, a memorandum was signed by Charité, the pharma group Bayer, and the State of Berlin in which they 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.”
The parliamentary guests were impressed by their visit to the BIH: “The BIH at Charité makes an important contribution to medical research in Berlin,” reported Michael Müller. “Its integration into Charité was the right step to further tap into its potential as a driving force behind medical translation.” Ruppert Stüwe wished the scientists continued success in their important work: “Their findings are advancing medicine – in Berlin, Germany, and around the world. It’s not only patients who benefit from this, but also Germany as a business location.”