Berlin-Brandenburg School for Regenerative Therapies
Lange is a PhD student at the Berlin-Brandenburg School for Regenerative Therapies (BSRT). He is conducting his research under the supervision of Professor Andreas Lendlein at the Centre for Biomaterial Development at the GKSS Research Centre in Teltow, near Berlin, a network partner of the graduate school specializing in regenerative medicine. The aim of this research is to stimulate the body's own regeneration potential. The vision is to use human-like materials to help sick or injured cells, tissues or organs to regenerate. Stem-cell research is also a branch of regenerative medicine and one focus of the BSRT's research.
Not only biological or medical knowledge is required in order to develop materials for regenerative therapies; engineering know-how is also needed. Hence, the graduate school's main objective is to bring together medical researchers, biologists, biochemists and engineers for a novel three-year training course. The aim is to train a new type of scientists who not only have a sound knowledge of their own subject, but are also well informed about such fields as cell biology, molecular biology, biotechnology and biomaterials. The graduates belong to one of three separate training courses: the first covers the fields of biology and biochemistry, the second chemistry, physics and engineering; the third possibility is a clinical area of training. The PhD students are given insights into the other two subject areas in addition to advanced training in their own fields. They are prepared for their future careers in academia or industry in special workshops, e.g. on scientific presentation and writing, the economic issues involved in therapy development, or the ethical and legal aspects of biomedicine.
Maik Lange, for example, was able to find out what happens in an operating theatre at a summer seminar at the German Heart Centre. It covered not only the causes and treatment of heart diseases, but also the equipment, surgical tools, materials and some of the problems that are involved.
Four disease types are at the focus of this graduate school: the young PhD students study diseases of the nervous system, immune system disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and injuries to the musculoskeletal system. "For example, we are working on implants that are a mixture of drugs, cells and technical products," explains Prof. Georg Duda, spokesperson of the graduate school and director of both the Julius Wolff Institute and the Centre for Musculoskeletal Surgery, Charité Hospital. Not only does the implant release drugs (e.g. antibiotics) into the body; over time it completely dissolves and is replaced by the body's own tissue.
Compared to other body tissues, bones have the ability to completely regenerate, although there are often situations that make it necessary to use implants. One of these is when there are injuries to the musculoskeletal system, e.g. major bone defects. Such an operation can also be necessitated by muscle deficits after repeated surgery or by arthrosis, in which the cartilage in the joints has been affected by wear and tear. Unlike bones, the ability of diseased heart tissue to regenerate is very limited. To improve this ability, the researchers at the graduate school are developing stem-cell therapies for use in the event of a heart attack – or in immunology, where it is hoped that they can improve the prospects of a successful organ transplant. By far the biggest problem in transplantation medicine is the rejection of new organs. Although a whole arsenal of immunosuppressive drugs is available in the meantime, these can cause severe side effects – e.g. impairments of other organs or the cardiovascular system.
BSRT scientists are working on generating the body's own T-cells, known as regulatory T-cells, which regulate the body's immune mechanisms and thus reduce the risk of rejection. To do this, these cells must be taken from the patients' blood, identified in a test tube, filtered out and propagated – a process that still raises many questions in basic research and technology. PhD students at the BSRT are also working on novel substrates – environments in which stem cells can reproduce optimally.
Economic aspects play an important role in the research projects, because the therapies have to be affordable. In practice, fast implementation is always an aim.
The BSRT is located on the Virchow Campus of Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin. 63 young scientists from Germany, America and Asia are currently working on their doctorates at the English-language graduate school, whose objective it is to train scientists who also have a basic knowledge of other disciplines, with the aim of developing regenerative therapies. Thanks to the support provided by the Excellence Initiative, the BSRT is also able to invite promising candidates at its own expense for application trips to Berlin so as to make the search for excellent young scientists more focused.
- Charité – Universitätsmedizin
- Berlin Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
- Freie Universität Berlin
- Technische Universität Berlin
- Universität Potsdam
- Berlin-Brandenburg Centre for Regenerative Therapies
- Centre for Biomaterial Development, GKSS, Teltow
- Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics
- Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces
- Max Delbrück Centre
- Robert Koch Institute
- German Heart Centre
- German Rheumatism Research Centre
- Zuse Institute Berlin