Biomedical Sciences

The fight against disease

The ZMB produces high-purity proteins for basic research.

Many illnesses today can be traced to genetic defects or wear in degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer or arthritis. At the same time, infections and cancer continue to lower both our quality of life and life expectancy. The mechanisms of disease at atomic, molecular, cellular and organismic level are the subject of investigation by scientists in the main research area of Biomedical Sciences. Their findings go into developing new diagnostic procedures and treatments relating to a wide range of pathological processes.

The focus in this field is on the main areas of medical research, namely Oncology, Immunology, Transplantation, Cardiovascular System and Medical Genetics, and on the biological disciplines of Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Developmental, Cellular, Molecular and Structural Biology. Work also includes medical technology solutions and new imaging procedures.

Biomedical Sciences brings to­gether basic research in the natural sciences and engineering with research at University Hospital. It comprises the Centre for Medical Biotechnology (ZMB) and the Erwin L. Hahn Institute for Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

This concentration of scientific and medical research and networking of the research groups has led to the establishment of several major collaborative projects in a very short space of time. The new Collaborative Research Centre (SFB-Transregio 60) is concerned with the immunology of viral infections. It specifically examines the molecular and cellular interactions between viruses and immune cells in order to develop new vaccines and immune therapies for Hepatitis C, SARS and HIV. International cooperation with scientists in Wuhan and Shanghai is a particular feature of this collaboration. In one project, researchers are also working to find improved procedures for HIV diagnosis (Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) CORUS project).

In Oncology, research focuses on the molecular signalling pathways in tumour growth, metastasis, vascular and oxygen supply, and the body's immune system. A BMBF project is developing small synthetic molecules aimed at improving the detection of metastasis. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) for different tissue is to be applied in the medical diagnosis and therapy of cancer. The ultra-high-field 7-tesla system at the Erwin L. Hahn Institute makes it possible to take highly sensitive structural and functional measurements in the human body.

At the West German Tumour Centre, a designated Comprehensive Cancer Centre, work continues into other applied fields, including the identification of cancer risk factors and new molecular targets for cancer therapy.
One of the main themes in genetics looks into the question of how genetic information, or DNA, is packed and organised in the cell nucleus. The biochemical properties of this packing, the chromatin, determine whether or not the genetic information can be transcribed. Incorrect transcription can contribute to premature ageing and the development of cancer. How this happens, which chemical changes occur, and how enzymes influence gene expression are the subject of research by the scientists in DFG Research Training Group 1431.

In a BMBF consortium project, researchers are analysing rare forms of disease caused by a so-called imprinting defect. Genomic imprinting refers to an epigenetic process in which specific genes in the male or female germline are silenced, so that only one copy of each gene is active after fertilisation of the egg cell. Errors in this process bring about changes in gene activity, which can cause disease. The research aims to decode the imprinting defects in human genetic material.

The search for scientific and technical solutions for medical applications is the domain of RIBS (Research in Biomedical Sciences), where scientists (Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Mathematics), engineers (Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Computer Science) and medics work together on new developments in Biomechanics, Biomaterials, Sensor Technology, Imaging and Image Analysis, and Drug Delivery. The Fraunhofer-Institute in Duisburg (HomeCare Lab) is also integrated into this alliance. Typical areas of research include understanding the musculoskeletal system and improving therapies (e.g. hip joints, bone replacement), the development of artificial oxygen carriers to substitute blood, and the treatment of genetic disorders.

Promoting young scientists is a top priority. Two DFG Research Training Groups in Immunology and Genetics are already well-established, and a graduate school in Biomedicine is scheduled to follow. To ensure that the high standard of interdisciplinary co­operation between science, engineering and medicine continues in the long term, the UDE offers students a demanding and varied training. In the Medical Biology programme, components of classical biology and chemistry are replaced by medical disciplines. This challenging course attracts 1900 applicants every year and as such is one of the most popular at the university.

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