Berlin-Buch has a long tradition as a medical research center: as early as the start of the 20th century there was an important clinical center there with a number of associated units that at times provided over 5000 beds.

Between 1928 and 1930, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society established an Institute of Brain Research on what is now the present Berlin-Buch Campus. At that time, the institute was the largest and most modern of its kind in the world. In charge of the institute and its associated clinics was Oskar Vogt who, with his wife Cécile, were two of the pioneers in the field of modern brain research. Vogt managed to get the Russian geneticist, Nikolai Wladimirovich Timoféeff-Ressovsky involved in setting up a Department of Experimental Genetics at his institute. During the Nazi period, the brains from victims who had been killed as part of the Nazi euthanasia program were used for research purposes at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Brain Research. There is a memorial on the campus to remind people of this.

In 1947, the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin set up the Institute of Medicine and Biology in the former Institute of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. This grew into an internationally celebrated center for cancer and cardiovascular research in which basic and clinical research were closely integrated. In 1972, the Institutes of the GDR Academy of Sciences, which had been established after 1947 from the Institute of Medicine and Biology, were formed into three central institutes for cancer research, cardiovascular research and molecular biology. After the reunification of East and West Germany, these three institutes became the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch in 1992. The two research clinics that had belonged to the central institutes became incorporated into the Charité of the Humboldt University of Berlin.

The MDC is named after the German-American Nobel Prize winner Max Delbrück. Together with Timoféeff-Ressovsky, who worked in Buch from 1930 to 1945, Delbrück laid the foundations of molecular genetics. Their joint publication with Karl Günter Zimmer in 1935, entitled "Über die Natur der Genmutation und der Genstruktur (On the nature of gene mutation and gene structure)" made a pioneering contribution in this area. Others working in Berlin at that time included the radiation researcher Walter Friedrich, the discoverer of the cellular energy transporter ATP, Karl Lohmann, the cancer researchers Arnold Graffi and Hans Gummel, the biochemist Erwin Negelein, and the cardiologist Albert Wollenberger