Biomedical Research at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine
Biomedicine is a modern, rapidly advancing and interdisciplinary field of research that investigates topics of medical relevance using a combination of methods including molecular biology, genetics, cell biology and bioinformatics. Our researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine conduct basic research in several of these disciplines.
Among other things, the migration of white blood cells, so-called leukocytes, and the barrier properties of cells of the blood vessels in vertebrates are investigated. Particular attention is paid to the molecular mechanisms that ensure that leukocytes in the blood vessel stop at a site of inflammation or infection and leave the bloodstream to intervene in the adjacent tissue. Important insights are being gained here using, among other things, genetically modified mice to understand how leukocyte extravasation is affected by the absence of certain gene products. Animal experiments thus provide important insights into fundamental aspects of immune surveillance and inflammatory processes.
The formation of blood vessels is also a prominent research topic at our institute. Specifically, we study how the blood vascular system grows during vertebrate development, forming a complex network of arteries, capillaries and veins. Among other things, cells of the vascular system also control important processes in various organs, such as the formation of bone in the skeletal system. The interaction of vascular cells with several other cell types and blood flow plays an important role in this process, which is why experimental animals and not only cell biological methods are used. The goal of this research is to understand how signals from blood vessels influence the healing of bone fractures or the loss of bone in aging and osteoporosis. A more detailed understanding of these molecular and cellular processes also opens up new possibilities for the development of therapeutic applications.
The skin of vertebrates forms an important biological barrier that protects us from harmful external influences and in this process, for example, the penetration of infectious germs. Skin consists of various layers that are constantly renewed throughout life. This would not be possible without stem and progenitor cells in the so-called basal layer and in hair follicles. Therefore, using a combination of cell culture techniques and animal experiments, we are investigating how the behavior of stem cells is controlled by molecular signals, mechanical influences and tissue architecture. Findings from this research can help to develop therapeutic procedures that prevent the loss of the skin's barrier function due to disease or aging processes.
Alternatives to animal research
In 2006, findings from animal studies and other experiments led to researchers being able to reprogram mature somatic cells into pluripotent stem cells. This development has revolutionized stem cell research: such reprogrammed stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells for short) can avoid the use of embryonic stem cells in many ways. Above all, they can be used to bring diseases into the culture dish, so to speak. This is because iPS cells can be used to generate patient-specific cell lines that can serve as disease models. This is particularly interesting for diseases for which there are no suitable animal models, such as Parkinson's disease.
Back in 2014, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine were awarded the Animal Welfare Research Prize by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture for developing scientific alternative methods to animal testing. The researchers used iPS cells to establish a model system for Parkinson's disease.
Researchers can now use iPS cell technology to generate three-dimensional organ-like tissue aggregates (organoids), for example, for research into Parkinson's disease. Organoid research is therefore an alternative method to animal research: it can replace certain animal experiments, and it can sometimes even produce findings that are more relevant to patients because human cells are used instead of animal cells. In addition, potential agents to alleviate or cure a disease can be tested directly in the organoids on human cells.
Also in 2021, a team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine received the Animal Welfare Research Prize from the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. The scientists developed a method that helps reduce the number of animal experiments in drug development.
At the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine, a project group is working specifically on organoid research as an alternative to animal testing.