Professor Meyer, at your Steinbeis Innovation Center for Systems Biomedicine, you work with clients on the planning and initiation of high-throughput projects in the field of biomedicine, pharmacology and infection research. What are the specific demands you face when working on projects in this area?
We focus our efforts in biomedicine on the analysis of large volumes of data that depict the state and properties of human cells in in-vitro cultures. The aim of this work is to gain a better understanding of the function of individual human genes. We’ve done this in past experiments with partners by using special robots to raise or lower the expression of individual genes in human cells. The effects of such genetic changes can then be gauged by using automatic microscopes and this can be used to evaluate resulting phenotypic changes. This method makes it possible to ascribe specific functions to individual human genes, for example genes that play a role in an infection with a pathogen.
In the past, we developed a unique range of bioinformatics evaluation instruments for use in high-throughput analysis. The emphasis shifted from solely carrying out high-throughput analysis to the in-depth analysis of data – so-called high-content analysis. As a result, we can now derive much more information from complex data than was previously possible and use this to evaluate the results of experiments.
Our portfolio of services is useful for a wide range of biomedical issues. That said, our bioinformatics analysis is just part of a complex overall experimental scenario, in which raw experimental data must first be generated.
The volumes of data encountered in medical research have kept expanding and becoming more complex in recent years. Naturally, this makes it more difficult to manage and analyze data. What do you feel can be done about this challenge?
The data we process is indeed extremely voluminous and gets into the terabyte range. Not only does this require the right computational power, it’s crucial to find an elaborate way to manage the data. As a result, we make more and more use of external data administration systems, keeping a careful eye on high security standards.
Given the growing volumes of data, in the future data mining, intelligent data storage and documentation will become more and more essential. You offer these services to your customers, but can you also give any important tips to small and medium-sized enterprises on how to get to grips with their data volumes?
Our unit is very open to collaboration with competent business partners. We’re pleased to give customers help with our know-how if they need it. In addition to that, it means a lot to us to work together with other groups and networks as part of domestic and international funding programs.
Another area of focus at your Steinbeis innovation center is biomedical consulting, especially on the development of vaccines and medicines. What do you think will change in the future regarding our requirements for new medicines and vaccines?
An important emphasis in our work is, indeed, infection research. The gene function analysis we carry out has immediate implications for the development of medicines (anti-infectives) and vaccines. But we also identify important connections to cancer research and to issues relating to the role played by tumor stem cells. These new aspects regarding the connections between chronic infections and the development of cancer in humans have a particularly high priority in our research. This is also an area in which bioinformatics are an important instrument for developing hypotheses, based on genomic sequencing data, and there’s a possibility that by identifying certain genomic signatures this could play a decisive role in working out the causal relationship between infections and cancer.
What’s more, we consider the biomedical work we’re currently carrying out to be a contribution to extremely important developments that still lie ahead, right up to medicines with specific effects – these could work effectively within the scope of personalized medicine, as part of individual treatment.
Prof. Dr. Thomas F. Meyer is director of the Center for Systems Biomedicine, a Steinbeis Innovation Center based in the Falkensee area of Berlin. Working in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology (see photo), the center conducts high-throughput analysis in the fields of infections and cancer research. It also offers clients support with the management of biomedical data, the multifactorial analysis of high-throughput data, and consulting services in the field of biomedicine.
Professor Dr. Thomas F. Meyer
Steinbeis Innovation Center Center for Systems Biomedicine (Falkensee)