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Biomedicine & Cell Biology

Biomedicine & Cell Biology

Biomedicine & Cell Biology


We research the genetic, physiological, cellular and structural basis of the brain, the cardiovascular system, the intestine, the pancreas and the liver in order to detect neurodegenerative diseases - such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's - or metabolic diseases - such as diabetes mellitus - at an early stage and to gain knowledge for their treatment or early detection. To this end, we use, among others, the model systems: Drosophila and C. elegans.

Cell biology and physiology of our organs

Our organs carry out pivotal functions that are essential for life. They are composed of a great variety of cell types that not only differ in their form and morphology but also in the up- or downregulation of specific sets of genes that mediate these highly specialized functions. 

Our research projects are aiming at the molecular and cellular analysis of these functions in order to better understand their causal relationships in health and disease. Using physiological and biochemical methods, we analyze how signaling molecules regulate the metabolism (Cell Biology). One of these molecules, insulin, regulates the glucose metabolism. In our efforts to better understand insulin production and secretion in the pancreas, we search for novel compounds that might be suitable for the treatment of Diabetes mellitus (Metabolic Physiology). Using advanced imaging and electrophysiology techniques we monitor not only the activity of neurons and synapses in the brain but also analyze the pathways leading to their malfunction following serious perturbations such as trauma, epilepsy or stroke (Neurobiology, Zelluläre Biophysik (ICS-4)). This involves also gene-regulatory processes in the immune system (AG Charlotte Esser) or disorders in the heart and circulatory system (AG Joachim Altschmied, IUF; AG Judith Haendeler, IUF). 

Functions of the nervous system

Our brain is composed of as much as 100 billion nerve cells and even more glial cells. How do they function together? Due to technical improvements, molecular neuroscience has recently turned into a rapidly expanding and exciting research field. Yet sophisticated treatments or curing drugs are unavailable for most, if not all, neurodegenerative diseases occurring later in life.

At the HHU, we are using the latest spectroscopic and electron microscopic technologies to understand the formation of insoluble protein aggregates that are a hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease (Physical Biology; Solid-State NMR group; Chemical Biology of Protein Aggregation; Protein Misfolding and Neurodegeneration). Protein aggregation and neurodegeneration is likewise studied in C. elegans models of these diseases (AG Anna von Mikecz, IUF). In addition, we examine the precise functions of membrane-associated protein complexes, which function in the prevention of these toxic aggregates, at atomic resolution using tomographic techniques (Structural Biology (ER-C-3); Structural biology of cellular autophagy). With modern techniques employed in cellular neurosciences, we study the consequences of membrane transport and disturbed intracellular signaling on neuron and glia function (Neurobiology; Zelluläre Biophysik (ICS-4)) or the effects of chronic miswiring on synaptic communication and behavior (Functional Cell Morphology​​​​​​​).

Cellular strategies of microorganisms

Infectious diseases are on the rise due to increasing resistance to antibiotics. Many of these microorganisms enter the body via the respiratory tract, the skin or the gut.  

At the HHU, we aim to identify the molecular and cellular entry routes of these microbial pathogens. Knowledge of their molecular surface composition and their host receptors enables us to better understand microbe-host interactions and to search for agents that might block invasion (Functional Genome Research of Microorganisms; Medical Microbiology and Hospital Hygiene).  In addition, some pathogens capture intracellular cytoskeletal elements for their advantage. Precise understanding of the regulation of the cytoskeleton might enable us to halt microbe proliferation (Eukaryotic Microbiology). In contrast to this, we also examine mutual-beneficial interactions between microorganisms and their host (Zoology and Organismic Interactions).

Model organisms to reveal the genetic basis of life

Molecular analyses have convincingly shown that many processes in life have been conserved for millions of years. It is for this reason that invertebrate model organisms are well suited for the analysis of gene function in vertebrates.

At the HHU, we established several different model organisms. Using Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly or geneticist's "companion", we study intercellular signal transduction processes in the conserved Notch pathway (Genetics), the proliferation and differentiation of stem cells in the gut (Genetics, AG Tobias Reiff) and the development of neuronal circuits in the nervous system (Functional Cell Morphology). In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, we analyse adhesion receptors with signalling functions (AG Simone Prömel) and the effects of environmental pollutants on the nervous system (AG Anna von Mikecz, IUF). Hydra vulgaris, a cnidarian, is perfectly suited for studying organismic interactions between the microbiome and their host (Zoology and Organismic Interactions). In honey bees (Apis mellifera), we have established a novel model system to focus on the genetic basis of social cast systems and sex determination (Evolutionary Genetics).

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