Interdisciplinary research: At the Cells-in-Motion (CiM) Cluster of Excellence at the University of Münster, ten new projects are receiving funding worth a total of around one million euros. Two CiM team leaders from different disciplines work together on each project. The disciplines they represent are Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Mathematics and Computer Science. The decision was made after an External Advisory Board consisting of internationally renowned scientists had reviewed the project ideas.
“These newly funded projects once again show the broad spectrum of the Cluster,” says Prof. Lydia Sorokin, spokesperson of “Cells in Motion”. “Researchers from a variety of disciplines contribute their expertise in the search for answers to biomedical questions.” The so-called Flexible Funds projects will be starting up in November this year and are set to run initially until the end of 2018. Almost 50 projects have received such funding since 2013.
Two examples of projects
How embryo and mother come together
In their Flexible Funds Project, Dr. Britta Trappmann, a biomedical engineer and biologist Dr. Ivan Bedzhov want to observe for the first time the entire process by which mouse embryos are implanted in the uterine wall. They will develop a synthetic tissue model, on the basis of a new kind of hydrogel. By using this material system the researches can individually influence many of the parameters. The hydrogel, for example, can have exactly the same degree of softness as the tissue of the lining of the uterus. In this way, Britta Trappmann and Ivan Bedzhov can follow the process by which the embryo is implanted in the uterine wall, and how the cells of the embryo interact with the mother´s blood vessels. In 49 percent of all miscarriages, human embryos do not manage to settle successfully in the uterine wall. So the process is often decisive for the success or failure of a pregnancy.
Growing nerve cells on chips
In another project, biophysicist Prof. Jürgen Klingauf and Prof. Wolfram Pernice, a nanophysicist, are developing a model with which they hope ultimately to gain a better understanding of how nerve cells communicate. Nerve cells in the brain are linked to one another by a large number of connections, the synapses, enabling them to pass on signals from cell to cell. One of the questions to which no answer has as yet been found is still: Do the signal emitting synapses change their structure and activity immediately after they have been active? The researchers are developing a chip on which they place both nerve cells and, at certain spots, proteins which induce the formation of synapses. The aim is to get artificial connections between nerve cells and chip structures to grow and to enable nerve cells and chip to communicate. In the process, optical waveguides on the chip stimulate the cells, receive optical signals from the artificial synapses and pass them on to other cells and synapses. The researchers call the system biohybrid because it combines biological and technical elements.