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International Consortium for Standardisation of Cell-based Screens
Posted December 22 2011
EU-funded research project combines molecular biology with materials science

An international consortium of academic and industrial partners including the BioQuant Centre at Heidelberg University will receive approx. EUR 4.4 million in funding from the European Union over a period of three years for the development of novel cell-based screens. The consortium has now taken up its activities, which aim to further standardise conditions for cell experiments by means of an innovative combination of methods from molecular biology and materials science. In the long run, these methods will allow researchers to obtain systematic insights into crucial biological processes like cell division. Apart from the Heidelberg research groups headed by CellNetworks members Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schwarz and Dr. Holger Erfle, the EU-project MEHTRICS (which stands for “Micropattern-Enhanced High Throughput RNA Interference for Cell Screening”) involves three companies from France and Germany and two university institutions from Switzerland and Lithuania.

 

“The smallest unit of life is the cell, so investigations of biological systems often begin at the cellular level,” says Prof. Ulrich Schwarz, head of a research group in theoretical biophysics operating at Heidelberg University’s Institute of Theoretical Physics and at the BioQuant Centre. “But even a single cell can react to external signals with highly complex behaviour. That makes it hard to understand the underlying mechanisms, for example in drug development.” There are two main reasons for this complexity in the cellular response. First, every human cell is controlled by around 23,000 genes, resulting in highly complex internal states and regulation mechanisms. Second, even cells with the same genetic profile will react very sensitively to different properties of their environment. Therefore it is crucial to standardise the conditions for cell experiments. In the last decade, methods have been devised both in molecular biology and in materials science to control this complexity. The MEHTRICS consortium intends to combine these different approaches for the first time and to develop automated procedures for simultaneously addressing both genetic and environmentally conditioned complexity.

 

BioQuant’s project partners are the French companies CYTOO and VITAMIB, the Dresden biotechnology company CENIX and two research groups from the Universities of Lausanne (Switzerland) and Vilnius (Lithuania). These partners’ specific expertise ranges from molecular and cell biology, chemistry, nanotechnology and pharmacology to robotics, microscopy and biophysical modelling. The two BioQuant groups will contribute their know-how in high-throughput experimentation and modelling. Dr. Holger Erfle is head of the Viroquant/CellNetworks-RNAi screening facility at the BioQuant Centre, which uses robots and automatic microscopes to systematically investigate the role played by individual genes in cellular processes. Prof. Ulrich Schwarz’ research group specialises in the quantitative modelling of cell mechanics and adhesion. In the last few years, his group has developed various theoretical models predicting how cells react to the material properties of their environment. These models will now be integrated into the consortium’s planning and evaluation of experiments.

 

At Heidelberg University’s BioQuant Centre, scientists from various disciplines join forces to shed light on the functioning of complex biological systems, bridging different faculties and research institutions. Experimental groups working in biology and medicine profit from know-how from technology, biophysics and bioinformatics. BioQuant’s scientific activities focus on a quantitative and multi-scale description of biological systems. The aim is to use mathematical models to cast light on complex processes at work in cells and cell aggregates, and thereby to contribute also to the development of new applications in biotechnology and medicine.

 

Contact


Dr. Holger Erfle, BioQuant Centre
phone: +49 6221 5451273
holger.erfle [ aT ] bioquant.uni-heidelberg.de

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schwarz, Institute of Theoretical Physics
phone: +49 6221 549431
ulrich.schwarz [ aT ] bioquant.uni-heidelberg.de

Dr. Angela Oberthür, BioQuant Centre
phone: +49 6221 5451204
angela.oberthuer [ aT ] bioquant.uni-heidelberg.de

 

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