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Stronger ties between physics and medicine

FAU and Max Planck Society establish joint centre

A unique institution, the only one of its kind in the world, which combines fundamental research in mathematics and physics with clinical research will be set up in Erlangen over the course of the next three years: a Max Planck centre for physics and medicine which will be a joint project involving the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light (MPL), FAU and Universitätsklinikum Erlangen. Over 100 researchers will work at the centre to find ways in which findings from fundamental research in mathematics and physics can be applied in medicine to the benefit of patients. The Bavarian government is supporting the creation of this centre with around 60 million euros as part of the Northern Bavaria Initiative.

Although biomedical research has made considerable progress in recent decades, there are still many aspects of the development, diagnosis and treatment of disease which need to be clarified in order to understand how cells function on a molecular level. At the same time, it is becoming ever more apparent that many important cellular processes are based on physical processes. In light of this, the new institution will specialise in fundamental scientific research into the structure, organisation, dynamics and function of cells, and how they interact with tissues and organs. It is hoped that this will lead to scientific breakthroughs in biomedicine which can quickly be transferred to practical applications that will benefit patients.
One of the centre’s main research priorities will be the space between the body’s cells. It will look at which substances occur here and which electrical, chemical and mechanical interactions take place. Another important topic will be the forces which deform cells or influence their mobility. For example, tumour cells are very different from healthy cells in terms of their mechanics. In addition, researchers will investigate which physical processes determine how cells influence each other in complex networks. This is significant as if isolated malfunctions in individual cells spread to an entire organ this can cause severe health problems and even lead to organ failure.

Erlangen ideal location for the collaboration

With its top research institutions – FAU, Universitätsklinikum, the Max Planck Institute and various Fraunhofer Institutes – and large number of companies which are involved in the relevant areas, Erlangen is the ideal location for this centre. The institution, which will be operated by MPL and FAU, will work closely with the Faculty of Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine, as well as with the Translational Research Centre (TRC) at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen. For this reason, the preferred location for the planned new building is on the grounds of Universitätsklinikum, close to TRC.

In order for this project to be a success, it is essential that all of the partners work closely with one another. To facilitate this collaboration, the Max Planck Society will finance an additional department which will focus on optical investigation in biomedicine, a research service department and a research group at its Institute for the Science of Light in Erlangen. FAU’s contribution will be a new Chair of Biophysics and a new Chair of Biomathematics at the Faculty of Sciences, and a research group at the Faculty of Medicine. Research funding from industry and public funds will be used to finance three additional research groups.

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Karl-Dieter Grüske
President of FAU
Phone: +49 9131 8526600

Prof. Dr. Vahid Sandoghdar
Director at MPL
Phone: +49 9131 6877200

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