Dr. Weeks’ Comment: The research accumulates and impresses!
Professor Birchmeier: Cancer Stem Cells and Cancer Diseases
Stem cells, which can be generated from embryonic cells but also from adult human somatic cells, are highly potent – they can divide indefinitely and differentiate into different tissues. They thus have great potential for medical research and therapy. “Consequently, today stem cells are considered to be a miracle cure for future developments, although we are only at the beginning of a comprehensive understanding of the biology of stem cells,” said Professor Walter Birchmeier, research group leader at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC).
The MDC conducts research on the etiology and pathogenesis of cardiovascular and neuronal diseases as well as specific cancer diseases. Current biomedical research investigates the complex processes during embryogenesis and the later development of the human body at the molecular level. Here research on stem cells plays a central role. “The focus of our fascination and interest is not only on questions related to the nature of stem cells, but also on the extraordinary potential that these cells may have for regenerative therapies,” Walter Birchmeier added. Malfunctions of stem cells – for example in cancer stem cells – have consequences in the development of diseases.
The main concern of the conference is to use the findings of developmental biology for the biomedical application of stem cells, Professor Birchmeier, a molecular biologist engaged in cancer research, went on to say. The scientists attending the conference conduct research on fundamental questions regarding stem cells and cancer stem cells of humans and in model systems (fruit flies, planaria, fish, mice). Part of the conference deals with the role of stem cells in tissue regeneration..
“German researchers, working here in Germany but, for instance, also in the U.S., are among the internationally recognized experts in the field of stem cells and are leaders in Europe,” Professor Birchmeier said. He pointed out that Rudolf Jaenisch, for example, together with his laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had provided important data on the epigenetic regulation of stem cells and the reprogramming of somatic cells (see Jaenisch press release). Hans Schöler in Münster identified a key factor which serves to maintain the undifferentiated state of embryonic stem cells (see Schöler press release). Conferences on the basic principles and mechanisms of stem cell biology which are attended by international participants have great significance for the further development of this line of research in Germany.
Stem cell research at the MDC
Research at the MDC is especially oriented towards using the insights gained in the laboratory in collaboration with clinicians of the Charité to develop new therapeutic concepts. The biology of stem cells and of cancer stem cells have therefore been the main research focus of the MDC during the past decade and have led to important publications. New groups of the MDC increasingly develop and use these new technologies.
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10, 13125 Berlin, Germany