Current Projects

General information about our scientific approach

Our talents as well as our diseases and ailments are influenced to a high degree by our genes. Our genes shape these characteristics through the manufacture of their gene products – the proteins – which carry out a wide range of functions in our bodies. The precise functions that our genes play e.g. during pathological processes, has remained largely unknown until now. Normally the impact of genes differs greatly depending on the state of our bodies. Understanding the functions of our genes would enable us to intervene more precisely and effectively in the disease process.

Recent years have seen a multitude of new methods for determining gene function: primarily these have involved RNAi and CRISPR technology. They can be used to switch off individual genes inside human cells to test the reaction of the cell during the course of a particular disease in the absence of discrete gene functions. This can even be done using high-throughput screening of all human genes, e.g. to investigate the importance of particular human genes during the course of an infection or in the development of cancer. This rapidly results in a list of gene functions which are important for a particular process inside human cells, such as infection or replication of pathogens.

Crucial gene functions represent potential drug development targets. If a known gene function is blocked, there is a good chance that related diseases can also be blocked, e.g. that an infection can be prevented or treated. This is usually done with so-called "small compounds" of almost unlimited shapes and properties, which occur naturally and can be chemically synthesized. Many of these molecules are already being used to treat diseases in humans, and for many the target structures are also known, i.e. the gene functions blocked by the molecule. Thus extensive data sets of tested inhibitors and their target structures are available.

Comparing the list of gene functions identified in the high-throughput screen with the available inhibitor molecules normally leads to the identification of a substantial number of inhibitors known to block relevant gene functions. This reveals information about potential drugs that have been successfully tested for other disease processes, possibly even in humans. Based on available high-throughput screens we have already carried out several such comparisons and discovered interesting substances that could in principle be used as pharmaceuticals. Naturally, this so-called "drug repositioning" strategy has to take into account the respective market and patent conditions, which may require differing strategies for the use of new applications.

The development of new drugs for the treatment of Ebola is the current focus of our research.