Stem Cell Research at the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf
Stem cell research in Düsseldorf plays an important role in national research with its stem cell bank for umbilical cord blood, founded in 1992 (with 293 unrelated transplants given and 9500 cryoconserved umbilical cord blood preparations, currently the largest European stem cell bank, as of December 2005) and the clinical focus of its Interdisciplinary Programmes for Blood Stem Cell Transplantation at the Faculty of Medical Science.
In 1999, the Department for Transplantation Diagnosis and Cell Therapeutics initiated research work focussing on unrestricted somatic stem cells from umbilical cord blood. Researchers were able to develop a robust culture method for the systematic expansion of these adherently growing cells without a spontaneous differentiation occurring.
In order to scientifically, preclinically and finally with regard to their clinical application, define the potential of these somatic stem cells, which are able to functionally differentiate in tissue culture and in preclinical animal models (mouse, rat, sheep) in all three germlines, an interdisciplinary working group was formed at the Medical Sciences Faculty at Heinrich-Heine University in 2001. A number of scientists from the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences were involved in this joint research group. The group investigated the regulatory and functional mechanisms of pluripotency along with the specific differentiation of these, described here for the first time as stem cells, from cord blood in tissue from bone, teeth, cartilage, fat, nerves, liver, blood, blood vessels and the heart.
Particular attention is devoted to the understanding of the symmetrical and assymetrical cell division programs. The goal is the elucidation of the molecular genetic regulation of self renewal, the development in progenitor cells of various differentiated tissue specificities as well as the extensive proliferation potentiation. This work is now being carried out successfully in the DFG Research group ‘Unrestricted Somatic Stem Cells from Umbilical Cord Blood (USSC)’.A number of reports, open to question, have appeared in scientific literature which want to infer that somatic pluripotent cells from bone marrow come into existence through so-called ‘transdifferentiation’Experiments are, therefore, crucial for stem cell research as a whole, which can prove indisputably the existence of a pluripotent somatic stem cells in the human system. At the current moment in time, there is no clinical evidence of such a cell in fully-grown humans. This brings out the central relevance of our research approach with stem cells from umbilical cord blood.All clinical stem cell studies, including those already successfully started by clinics for general and visceral surgery, as well as gastroenterology and haepatology for autologous liver generation, are critically reviewed and accompanied by an ethics working group along with the corresponding commission of the Medical Sciences Faculty.The processing of cellular medicinal products from umbilical cord blood (with marketing authorisation from the Paul-Ehrlich-Institute [PEI]) as well as these cell therapeutics and all preparations for bone marrow transplantations and for peripheral stem cells for haematology, pediatrics, gynaecology, urology, endocrinology and neurosurgery has taken place since mid 2005 in the new GMP clean room building of the Institute for Transplantation Diagnostics and Cell Therapeutics.Furthermore, associates from the Clinic for Heart and Thorax Surgery have managed to begin the first national study, with approval from PEI, on the treatment of heart patients needing an operation through selective precursor cells from bone marrow.Parallel to this, research is currently being carried out in preclinical studies on swine models to see whether the umbilical cord blood stem cells (USSC) specially identified in Düsseldorf can be inserted allogenically in an analogue way. Correspondingly, the immunomodulatory characteristics of these stem cells along with their homing and migration behaviour are being examined in particular. Through their ability to produce a variety of pharmaceutically effective substances with regenerative impact at the cell level in degenerating tissue, such stem cells can develop a regenerative effect even without their own differentiation in tissue specific cells. Targeted research should clarify whether the migration of stem cells into the tumour tissue can be used therapeutically. The possible biological interaction between tumour cells and stem cells with respect to a tumour genesis and progression needs to be illuminated further. Ultimately, it is necessary to elucidate the biological interfaces between stem cells, tumour stem cells and tumour cells, leading to new types of treatment.Gene analyses which focussed on such stem and aligned progenitor cells from umbilical cord blood and bone marrow and tumour stem cells on epigenetic programs and microRNA-controlled regulation mechanisms, have shown the first important results in the definition of a molecular identity of such cells, above all, however, the particular commonalities with embryonic stem cells along with various precursor cells.These Düsseldorf stem cell research activities are carried out in cooperation with the Medical & Biological Research Centre and the SFB 590 (Inherent and Adaptive Differentiation Processes) as well as within the framework of the Stem Cell Network NRW with the Max-Planck-Institute of Molecular Biomedicine in Münster and the Institute for Regenerative Neurobiology at the University of Bonn. In addition, cooperation with the biomaterial Centre (Biomat) at the Technical University in Aachen should be intensified regarding the use of new types of biomaterials and nanotechnologies.
Your contact at the University Düsseldorf is Prof. J. Adjaye.
You can reach him at 0049 (0) 211 81-08191
Philosophy Institute at the University of Düsseldorf
The Philosophy Institute at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf has a strong teaching and research focus on applied ethics and with its Masters course in philosophy offers the chance to get a Masters degree with applied ethics as a major (in collaboration with the co-operating department of the History of Medicine). The focus is on bio-ethical topics (biomedical ethics, natural ethics) media ethics, business ethics and the ethics of technology. Research projects which have been, and are being, conducted in this field include projects on the topics of "Principles and Application of Future Ethics", "Methodological Issues in Medical and Applied Ethics", "Critical Analysis of Arguments against Selection at the Beginning of Life" and "The Naturalisation of Human Dignity", and “The Limits of Negotiation. On the possibilities and limitations of moral compromise in relationships within intercultural cooperation.”
Your contact person for the philosophical faculty at the University of Düsseldorf is Prof. Dr. D. Birnbacher.
You can reach him at 0049 (0) 211-5590159.
Institute for the History of Medicine
Within the large spectrum of topics constituting the history, theory and ethics of medicine, the Institute for the History of Medicine at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf focuses mainly on the interdependence of medicine and society. Methodologically, its approach is based on historical sociology and the theory-driven history of medicine. The following topics are covered: health, disease and body awareness through to molecular medicine; society and health with reference to medical ethics; factors in the development of public health and health policy (includes: medical science and National Socialism), historical demography and epidemiology, the history of the hospital, the scientific history of naturopathy, medical aspects of environmental history, doctors and medical science in Düsseldorf and finally mankind and death in the visual arts (the University’s dance of death collection).