Cells in motion
Every process within every organism involves molecules and cells and their interactions. In order to understand these dynamic processes, researchers in the Cells in Motion Interfaculty Centre study not only relationships between the individual components within a cell but also interactions between cells. We investigate which biochemical and biophysical properties of a cell influence its behaviour, how these properties are determined by genes and how the dynamic cellular processes in an organism remain in healthy balance, which is called homeostasis. We concentrate mainly on cellular processes that occur in blood and lymphatic vessels and their impact on organ function – not only during vessel development but also when they are fully formed in the mature organism.
By learning more about the molecular mechanisms that govern normal organ function in a healthy organism, we are able to draw conclusions as to what happens in the body in different diseases and analyse how healthy cellular systems can develop into diseased systems. Here, we are especially interested in inflammation, during which immune cells migrate out of blood vessels into tissues to fight infections or to repair tissue damage. However, inflammatory reactions may vary depending on the organ and the vessel type in which they occur, and in autoimmune diseases they are falsely directed against cells of the own organism. Studying mechanisms that explain these different scenarios is a focus of our research.
To address biomedical questions, we systematically employ imaging methods to see cells and molecules in tissues and organs. These range from high-resolution light microscopy to whole-body imaging methods which reveal structures or processes in the entire organism. Commencing with a detailed analysis of the environment within and around cells, our field of view becomes ever broader as we “zoom out” to ask: How does the cell behave in tissues, in organs and in the entire organism? To bridge these questions and different spatial dimensions, we pursue a unique strategy in our science network: We develop chemical and mathematical methods that can be employed in different imaging methods with different resolutions. Only in this way is it possible to examine the same cell in various spatial dimensions over time, using a variety of imaging methods. This approach promotes the transfer of methods that are applied to model organisms – for example fruit flies, zebrafish and mice – to clinical imaging methods for patient diagnosis. One example of translating basic research to a clinical application has been the visualisation of ongoing inflammation in the brains of multiple sclerosis patients.
In our scientific field, researchers from medicine, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and computer science work together. Research questions and results from the different disciplines drive and advance each other: Biologists and medical researchers, for example, identify molecules critical for specific cellular processes, and chemists develop new substances and signalers that bind to such molecules or cells to make them visible using imaging methods. Physicists develop detectors that capture specific signals for biomedical imaging as well as new measurement techniques that can analyse biophysical parameters, such as forces acting between cells. Mathematicians and computer scientists develop algorithms, some of which use artificial intelligence – so-called machine learning – to process and analyse the resulting large quantities of complex data. In this way, a computer may recognize specific patterns of cell behaviour in many different tissues that are not otherwise visible; thereby, biomedical questions can be answered and, at the same time, new research directions are identified.
When researchers with different areas of expertise and approaches interact, this promotes scientific creativity and enables decisive progress. Our research network’s combination of scientific and clinical perspectives also facilitates the transfer of basic research results into clinical applications.