No. 26/December 16, 2014

Broad Receptive Field Responsible for Differentiated Neuronal Activity

Some neurons are more active than others, even when they are positioned right next to each other and are one and the same neuron type. Dr. Jean-Sébastien Jouhanneau and Dr. James Poulet of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin Buch have discovered the cause for this phenomenon. They found that the more active neurons in the somatosensory area of the brain respond to a broader receptive field and probably play a particularly important role in our sensory perception. The findings of the researchers, who also work at the NeuroCure Cluster of Excellence at Charité in Berlin, have now been published in the journal Neuron (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2014.10.014)*.

No. 25/December 11, 2014

Curt Meyer Memorial Prize for Dr. Jane Holland of the MDC

Main Driver Identified for Aggressive Form of Breast Cancer

The Australian cancer researcher Dr. Jane Holland of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch was honored on the evening of December 10, 2014 with the Curt Meyer Memorial Prize. She received the prize, which is endowed with 10,000 euros, for her study on basal breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer, which was published online in the open access journal Cell Reports*. The study elucidated the main driver for the aggressiveness of this cancer subtype and at the same time identified targets for the development of new and more effective treatments. The prize was awarded to Dr. Holland, who is thirty-four years old and is originally from Adelaide, Australia, at a symposium in Berlin. Since 2007, she has been a member of the research group led by Professor Walter Birchmeier at the MDC.

No. 24/ December 9, 2014

ERC Starting Grants for Two Researchers of the MDC

Two researchers of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch will receive more than 3 million euros in research funding from the European Research Council (ERC) in Strasbourg. Cancer researcher Dr. Michela Di Virgilio and systems biologist Dr. Baris Tursun of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) of the MDC will receive an ERC Starting Grant endowed with 1.9 million euros and 1.5 million euros respectively. They were selected from 3,273 applicants. The ERC grants are for a period of five years and will begin in spring 2015.

No. 23/December 5, 2014

Why CLL is Most Often Characterized by Relapses after Treatment

New Targets for Therapy Identified

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is among the most frequent leukemias affecting adults in Western countries. It usually occurs in older patients, does not cause any symptoms for a long time and is often only discovered by accident. Despite treatment, relapses frequently occur. The immunologists Dr. Kristina Heinig and Dr. Uta Höpken (Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, MDC, Berlin-Buch) and the hematologist Dr. Armin Rehm (MDC and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin) have now discovered why this is so. In a mouse model they developed, the researchers demonstrated that crosstalk between the cancer cells and a group of stromal cells in the spleen is crucial for cancer growth. At the same time they were able to block the entry of cancer cells into the spleen as well as their proliferation and thus identified new targets for future therapies in humans (Cancer Discovery, doi:10.1158/2159-8290.CD-14-0096).*

November 5, 2014

Berlin Cures: Novel treatment targeting the cause of heart failure

Ascenion receives equity in Charité and MDC spin-off

Berlin Cures is the first joint spin-off to be launched by the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin (Charité) and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch. The company is developing a new aptamer-based causal treatment for heart failure. Ascenion, the technology transfer partner of both institutes, has negotiated the licensing and investment agreements, thereby acquiring shares in Berlin Cures.

No. 21/October 16, 2014

Professor Walter Rosenthal Assumes Presidency of Jena University – Professor Thomas Sommer Becomes Interim Director of the MDC

On October 16, 2014, Professor Walter Rosenthal, former Chair of the Board of Directors and Scientific Director of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch since 2009, assumed his new position as President of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. He was elected on May 23, 2014 as successor of Professor Klaus Dicke by the University Council in consultation with the Senate of the University. On October 15, 2014, Professor Thomas Sommer became Interim Chair of the MDC Board of Directors until the appointment of a successor. From 2004 to the present, Sommer held the position of Deputy Scientific Director of the MDC.

No. 22/October 16, 2014

Researchers in Berlin and Bath Identify “Naïve-Like” Human Stem Cells

In their search for the earliest possible stage of development of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) that still have the potential to develop into any types of body cells and tissue, researchers from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany, and the University of Bath, United Kingdom, have apparently been successful. Jichang Wang, Gangcai Xie, and Dr. Zsuzsanna Izsvák (MDC), together with Professor Laurence D. Hurst (University of Bath), report the discovery of a subtype of cells in culture dishes with hESCs and human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) that resemble this very early, pluripotent or naïve state (Nature, doi:10.1038/nature13804)*. They also discovered the mechanism that turns human ES cells into naïve-like human stem cells. While this has potential implications for medicine and for understanding early human development, an evolutionary enigma still remains unsolved.

No. 20/ September 30, 2014

MDC and Charité Researchers Identify Dendritic Cell Mechanism Driving Lymphoma Tumor Growth

Instead of supporting the body in its fight against cancer, specialized immune cells called dendritic cells (DCs) may also have just the opposite effect. In cancers of the colon, stomach, breast and prostate, DCs have been shown to contribute to tumor growth and to the shielding of the tumor from the immune defense system. Now the hematologist Dr. Armin Rehm (MDC and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin) and the immunologist Dr. Uta Höpken (MDC) have shown for the first time that this phenomenon also occurs in lymphomas. The researchers have also identified the molecular mechanism that induces the immune cells to promote lymphoma tumor growth. (Nature Communications, doi: 10.1038/ncomms6057).*

No. 19/September 4, 2014

Angiogenesis Specialist Begins Work at MDC, Charite, DZHK and BIH in Berlin

Several research institutions in Berlin have jointly succeeded in attracting the angiogenesis specialist Dr. Holger Gerhardt to the capital city. Since the beginning of September he is research group leader at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) and at the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and concurrently W3 Professor of Experimental Cardiovascular Research at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Furthermore, he is integrated into the German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), a nation-wide research association. His most recent position was at the London Research Institute in England and concurrently at the Vesalius Research Center of the Flanders Institute of Biotechnology (VIB), located at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.

No. 18/September 1, 2014

From the U.S. to Berlin: Junior Research Group Leaders for the MDC and NeuroCure

Cancer research and the neurosciences at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) have been strengthened. The biologist Dr. Michela Di Virgilio from The Rockefeller University in New York, USA began work in September as Helmholtz junior research group leader at the MDC, a research institution of the Helmholtz Association. Concurrently with Dr. Di Virgilio, the neuroscientist Dr. Niccolò Zampieri from Columbia University, New York, USA began work as junior research group leader at the MDC and in the excellence cluster NeuroCure* of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

No. 17/August 27, 2014

New Research Method Opens Door to Therapy with Human Muscle Stem Cells

Scientists and Physicians in Germany Collaborate to Develop Promising Method

Muscle stem cells are essential for the repair of muscle damage, but all attempts to manipulate human muscle stem cells for therapy have thus far failed. Now Dr. Andreas Marg and Professor Simone Spuler of the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC), a joint cooperation between the Max Delbrück Center (MDC) and the Charité in Berlin-Buch, have shown how this might work. They developed a method in which they did not isolate the muscle stem cells, but rather cultivated, proliferated and transplanted them along with their muscle fibers. Using this method in mice, they were able to successfully regenerate muscle tissue. This new research method opens the door for the use of muscle stem cells for the therapy of muscle diseases (Journal of Clinical Investigation, http://dx.doi.org/10.1172/JCI63992)*.

No. 16/June 11, 2014

Rome’s Sapienza University Awards Honorary PhD to MDC Researcher Nikolaus Rajewsky

Performed Piano Concert at Award Ceremony

Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) was awarded an honorary PhD in human biology and medical genetics by Sapienza University of Rome on June 11, 2014. The award was given in recognition of his achievements in systems biology, in particular for his contributions to elucidate basic mechanisms of gene regulation, and his innovative approaches combining physics, computer science and mathematics with biology. Having graduated in theoretical physics, he developed his outstanding research profile in biomedical research early on in his career.

No. 15/June 5, 2014

Humboldt Research Award Granted to Cancer Researcher Hua Eleanor Yu

Host Institute: Max Delbrück Center

Cancer researcher and immunologist Professor Hua Eleanor Yu of the Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope Medical Center, Duarte, California, USA, has been awarded the Humboldt Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) at an award ceremony in Berlin in the evening of June 4th, 2014. The award is connected with an invitation to spend a period of up to one year cooperating on a long-term research project with a research institution in Germany. Professor Yu selected the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, a member of the Helmholtz Association, as her host institution. With Professor Yu, a total of 36 scientists have received the prestigious award in 2014. It is valued at 60,000 EUR and is granted by the Humboldt Foundation to “academics, whose fundamental discoveries, new theories, or insights have had a significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future.”

No. 14/June 2, 2014

How the Environment and Genetics Impact Our DNA

First European Study Presented

The impact of the environment on our genetic makeup has long been a topic of discussion among researchers. Now a European consortium (EURATRANS) headed by Professor Norbert Hübner of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch has taken the opposite approach. The scientists have investigated for the first time to what extent specific genetic predispositions influence the processes of gene regulation. Thus, they attempt to elucidate why certain environmental factors have different effects, e.g. why salt causes blood pressure to rise sharply in some people and not in others. With their study they are pursuing a new approach to investigating these phenomena by linking different genetic analysis methods with each other (Genome Research, doi: 10.1101/gr.169029.113)*.

No. 13/May 8, 2014

New MDC Research Report Published

The new biannual research report for the years 2012 and 2013 of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch has now been published. In the 326-page report, which is predominantly in English, the 62 research groups of the MDC, the central units (technology platforms) and the clinical groups in the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC) of the MDC and the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin give an overview of their work in the research areas of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, cancer, diseases of the nervous system and systems biology.

No. 12/May 7, 2014

Immunologist Dr. Michael Sieweke Elected EMBO Member

Immunologist Dr. Michael Sieweke has been elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). He is head of a German-French research group at the Centre d`Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy (CIML/INSERM/CNRS)* and since autumn 2012 has also been a group leader at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany as part of the German-French Helmholtz-INSERM cooperation initiative. His research group is co-financed by the MDC. Dr. Sieweke is one of 106 scientists, among them 21 female scientists, from 17 different countries including China, Japan and the U.S. who were elected to become EMBO members this year. EMBO, founded 50 years ago to promote the biosciences in Europe, elects new members every year in recognition of excellent research. EMBO currently has more than 1600 members.

No. 10/April 30, 2014

MDC Biochemist Miguel Andrade-Navarro Assumes Chair of Bioinformatics in Mainz

The biochemist and expert in bioinformatics Dr. Miguel Andrade-Navarro of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Biology (MDC) Berlin-Buch has accepted an appointment to a full professorship (W3) in Mainz. The Chair of Bioinformatics was recently established at the Faculty of Biology of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the new Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB), which is funded by the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation. This underlines the importance of bioinformatics for exploring the mechanisms involved in human disease and identifying targets for the development of better therapies. Dr. Andrade-Navarro assumed his new post in spring this year.

No. 11/April 30, 2014

HFSP Grant for International Research Team – MDC Participates

A team of four researchers from the U.S., Italy and Germany, among them Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, have been awarded a grant of more than 1.2 million dollars from the Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO), Strasbourg, France, for a project in cancer research.* In collaboration with Professor Brian Brown from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, USA, the researchers aim to elucidate the function, dynamics and competition of different groups of non-coding RNA in gene regulatory networks and their role in the pathogenesis of cancer. HFSP projects are selected in a rigorously competitive process and thus represent a special distinction. In this year’s grant competition, 34 projects were selected from 844 applications. Altogether, the winning projects will receive circa 35 million dollars in funding from the HFSPO.

No. 9/April 16, 2014

Pressure Relief Valve in Cellular Membrane Identified

Regulation of cell volume is critical for the body’s cells, for example during cellular exposure to fluids of varying salt concentrations, in cell division and cell growth, but also in diseases such as cancer, stroke and myocardial infarction. A certain chloride channel, a membrane protein that allows the passage of the chloride ion, is of crucial importance in volume regulation. It is activated by the swelling of the cell and then releases chloride ions and organic matter (osmolytes) from the cell. Researchers led by Professor Thomas J. Jentsch (Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, MDC, Berlin-Buch/Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie, FMP) have now succeeded for the first time in elucidating the molecular identity of this volume-regulated anion channel (VRAC). In recognition of the importance of the findings, the journal Science published the results of the study already in advance as Science Express (April 10, 2014; DOI: 10.1126/science.1252826)*.

No. 8/April 10, 2014

MDC Researchers Develop Method to Detect Molecular-Scale Movements Relevant for Fine Touch

Touch can be comforting, raise a person’s spirits and even evoke feelings of happiness. The sensation of touch begins in our skin or more specifically, in certain cells whose nerve endings (neurites) are distributed throughout our skin. Some of these cells are so incredibly sensitive that even Prof. Gary Lewin and Dr. Kate Poole, who have been studying the “mechanoreception” of the touch sensation for years, were surprised by their findings. The two scientists of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch and their team of researchers have developed a system with which molecular-scale mechanical stimuli can be exerted on a single cell (Nature Communications, doi: 10.1038/ ncomms4520)*.

No. 7/March 27, 2014

MDC Researchers Gain New Insights into Epilepsy

Just as each musician in an orchestra contributes to the overall sound of a musical piece, different types of nerve cells in the brain make up the symphony of our consciousness. They regulate and coordinate the activity of groups of neurons that represent parts of information, which they then may transmit to other brain regions. If this precise system is thrown off balance, diseases can develop. Professor Jochen Meier of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch investigates such processes. Together with his colleagues, he has gained new insights into epilepsy, showing why the disease may present different symptoms (Journal of Clinical Investigation, doi:10.1172/JC171472)*.

No. 6/March 25, 2014

Professor Jens Reich Turns 75

Professor emeritus Jens Reich, physician, molecular biologist and civil rights activist, will turn 75 on March 26, 2014. Having retired from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch ten years ago, Professor Reich remains very much active today, working as the organization’s ombudsman and helping researchers in conflict situations – the same position he held at the Charité University Hospital from 2001 on. He also teaches bioethics at a private American college in Berlin.

No. 5/February 28, 2014

What Makes Axons Branch in the Brain Forest?

Proper functioning of the nervous system is based on the correct wiring of nerve cells. A single neuron in our brain is connected to other neurons by as many as 10,000 contacts. The pattern of this neural network is laid down during embryonic and early postnatal development, when neurons send out an axon that extends – often over considerable distances – into the target areas. By a process called axonal branching an individual neuron can establish connections to several target regions in the brain, thus providing the structural basis for the simultaneous processing of individual pieces of information. Now neurobiologists in the research group led by Professor Fritz G. Rathjen have gained new insight into this important process (Journal of Neuroscience, doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4183-13.2014)*.

No. 4/February 13, 2014

MDC Researchers Unveil a New Cause of Familial Alzheimer’s Disease and Find Novel Protective Mechanism

Researchers in Germany and Japan have found out how a new form of familial (inherited) Alzheimer’s disease (AD) develops and have also detected a new mechanism in nerve cells which reduces the risk for this disease. Altogether, four different forms of inherited Alzheimer’s are now known. These familial forms are rare, but very aggressive and typically affect individuals before the age of 60. The findings jointly obtained by Dr. Safak Caglayan and Professor Thomas Willnow from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany, and by Professor Junichi Takagi from the University of Osaka, Japan, have now been published in Science Translational Medicine, doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3007747)*.

No. 3/January 14, 2014

European Research Council Consolidator Grant Awarded to the Biochemist and Protein Crystallographer Professor Oliver Daumke

Biochemist and protein crystallographer Professor Oliver Daumke of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch and Freie Universität (FU) Berlin has been awarded one of the highly sought-after European Research Council (ERC) grants. During the next five years he will receive funding through a Consolidator Grant endowed with 2 million euros, the ERC in Brussels announced. These grants are awarded to researchers in the physical, engineering and life sciences, humanities and social sciences with over seven and up to 12 years of experience since completion of the PhD degree. For 2014, 312 top researchers have been awarded a prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant out of a total of 3 600 applicants.

January 13, 2014

Start-up Trianta to Exploit the Power of T Cells for Cancer Therapy

First patient enrolled in Phase I study in AML

Trianta Immunotherapies GmbH, a recently founded spin-off from the Helmholtz Zentrum München, has closed a license agreement with the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine Berlin-Buch (MDC) granting Trianta worldwide, exclusive rights to IP and know-how relating to technologies for the development of personalized dendritic cell vaccines and adoptive T-cell therapies. Both platforms are based on many years’ intense research and development work by Prof. Dolores Schendel and her team at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, in collaboration with Prof. Thomas Blankenstein at the MDC. Ascenion, the institutes’ technology transfer partner, has been working with the teams for years, helping to secure comprehensive patent protection and finally mediating the license contract. In the context of the deal, Ascenion has acquired an equity stake in the company.

No. 2/January 9, 2014

Better Grip with Wrinkly Fingers? MDC-Researchers find no Proof

When we swim or bathe for too long our fingertips get wrinkled. Wrinkling is an involuntary response controlled by the body’s autonomic nervous system. Tiny blood vessels in the skin constrict after water exposure and so does the skin of the fingertips. What are wrinkled fingers good for? Researchers have been pursuing this question for quite some time as did Julia Haseleu and Damir Omerbašić from Professor Gary R. Lewin’s research group at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch. One theory, proposed in a recent study which received a lot of press coverage, suggested that wrinkled fingers help humans get a better grip of wet objects perhaps by enhancing touch sensitivity. The MDC researchers tested this idea again, but found that wrinkled fingers are of no advantage to get a better grip of wet or dry objects. And they have no influence on touch sensitivity (PLOS ONE, doi http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0084949)*.

No. 1/January 8, 2014

How the pancreatic beta cells control proliferation and insulin release during states of insulin resistance and sensitivity

Researchers of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch have gained new insights into how the insulin-producing cells of the body, the pancreatic beta-cells, adapt to an increased demand of this hormone during insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body produces insulin but cannot use it effectively and which can lead to the onset of type-2 diabetes. Sudhir G. Tattikota, Thomas Rathjen and Dr. Matthew Poy identified several components of a delicately orchestrated network within the microRNA (miRNA) pathway, which help beta-cells to meet changes in the insulin demand of the body. In the newly published study they were able to show for the first time how beta cells make use of the miRNA pathway to control proliferation and insulin release upon restoration of insulin sensitivity in obese mice (Cell Metabolism, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2013.11.015)*.