The importance of Computational Biology for life sciences is great and will continue to increase in the future. In this interdisciplinary science, molecular biological and biomedical questions can be answered with the help of computer-aided models and algorithms that would otherwise often fail due to the sheer volume of data. Thanks to the models and calculation methods, genomes are sequenced, proteins are broken down into their structure, large cohorts are quantitatively analyzed, AI algorithms for medical applications are developed or model-based forecasts are made – the predictions of past and certainly future corona waves as well as the selection of the right therapy in oncological diseases are just two examples.
With its mix of scientific institutes, companies, IT companies and medical institutions as well as the annual Current Topics in Bioinformatics, the Berlin-Brandenburg metropolitan region has become a hotspot for Computational Biology. Around 390,000 people work in the health sector here; the companies generate a total turnover of 27 billion Euro. About 10,900 people are employed in 34 pharmaceutical companies, and 14,400 in the approximately 330 medical technology and digital health companies. In addition, there are numerous research institutions and 37,000 students who are currently studying information technology or computer science at Berlin’s universities and colleges. Many have specialized in Computational Biology.
Since Computational Biology requires not only medical data but also a lot of information technology, there are also large overlaps with other fields in this area. Especially in the innovative field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), for example, the HealthCapital cluster works closely with the ICT, Media and Creative Industries cluster. In addition to Computational Biology, AI systems from the German capital region are also used in internal processes in hospitals and in surgical planning
Cooperation of key stakeholders
Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky, Director of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), is also convinced: “The German capital undoubtedly offers a very attractive environment for Computational Biology and data science. In particular, I believe that the cooperation between different key players such as the Charité, one of the largest university hospitals in Europe, excellent universities and non-university research institutions is a key factor.” He adds further: “Interesting trends have emerged in the past few years, such as the launch of innovative educational initiatives like HEIBRiDS – a joint graduate program in Data Science between the Einstein Center Digital Future and the Helmholtz Association - but also highly dynamic industry developments with global industrial leaders in AI research like Amazon and Google opening offices in Berlin.”
Understanding gene regulation in health and disease
Rajewsky is a leading international systems biologist. He founded and is head of the “Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology” (BIMSB), a new, interdisciplinary department of the Max Delbrück Center (MDC) in the Helmholtz Association. Research at the BIMSB focuses on understanding and predicting gene activity in health and diseases. One goal of the researchers is to identify new “drug targets” (therapy targets) by means of precision medicine and cell-based medicine. In particular, approaches are being pursued that allow intervention in the course of the disease before symptoms develop (“Cell-based interceptive medicine”).
In addition to his work for the BIMSB, Rajewsky is involved in many projects and collaborations. For example, he is the spokesman of Virchow 2.0. This Berlin network coordinated by the MDC (with the partners Charité, BIH, and Zuse Institute/BIFOLD) is building a regional biomedical AI ecosystem in which cell-based medicine is brought into direct application with the help of artificial intelligence and personalized disease models and collaboration with companies and venture capital (innovation cluster of the BMBF Cluster4Future Initiative).
Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics
Research institutions in Berlin such as the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics (MPI MolGen) also support medicine with their results and use computer models to understand dysregulations in the cell nucleus, for example. In the Bioinformatics department of the MPI MolGen, which is headed by Professor Martin Vingron, the scientists conduct research in the field of epigenetics, among other things, and develop machine learning methods to predict defined amplifier structures (“enhancers”) in epigenetic markings.
Working group “Medical Bioinformatics” at the Zuse Institute
A working group entitled “Medical Bioinformatics” is based at the Zuse Institute, which deals with applied mathematics and data-intensive high-performance computing. Among other things, the Medical Bioinformatics group works on data-driven methods for the identification and statistical evaluation of correlations between disease-specific phenotypic information with the data from various very large big data experiments.
The Fraunhofer Institutes, such as the Heinrich Herz Institute or the Robert Koch Institute also have their own departments or research groups for Computational Biology. The Einstein Center Digital Future conducts research in the core area of digital health, among others.
Core Unit Bioinformatics at the Charité
The Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin combines the bioinformatics and data analysis expertise at the Berlin Institute of Health with the Core Unit Bioinformatics (CUBI). Among other things, the scientists want to research genetic variations, biomedical challenges and the conversion of data into clinically applicable results.
New WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence
With the new “WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence”, Berlin is getting a further boost for the utilization of data from the healthcare industry using bioinformatics. The World Health Organization (WHO) hub was inaugurated in September 2021. With the help of the hub, future pandemic outbreaks should be identified and prevented at an early stage. For this purpose, data are collected, evaluated and current findings are brought together. Partners include Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Robert Koch Institute as well as the Hasso Plattner Institute.
Degree program in bioinformatics at the universities
Academic training in Computational Biology in Berlin-Brandenburg takes place at almost all universities and colleges. In order to close the interface between computer science and medicine, the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) at the University of Potsdam, for example, has developed the Digital Health master’s degree. All the major universities in Berlin – the Technische Universität, the Freie Universität, and the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin as the joint medical faculty of the Freie Universität and the Humboldt-Universität – have their own bioinformatics degree programs. Likewise at the Technical University of Wildau and the BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg.
The Technische Universität, for example, is home to the Berlin Institute for the Foundation of Learning and Data (BIFOLD), which conducts basic research in the areas of Big Data management and machine learning.
Computational Biology in Business
In addition to science, numerous companies working in the field of Computational Biology are also based in Berlin. Ada Health, Alacris, ATLAS Biolabs, Bayer, Centogene, Google, Illumina, LGC Biosearch Technologies, MicroDiscovery and Targenomix, among others, can be mentioned here. In addition, there are start-ups such as Aignostics Computational Pathology, biotx.ai, Cambrium, Cinference, Nostos Genomics and QuantGene.
Increasingly, the results and projects from research in Computational Biology are finding their way directly into business. For example, x-cardiac – a spin-off of the German Heart Center Berlin (DHZB) – has developed software that can quickly predict the risk of postoperative bleeding in patients. The development was also supported by the Berlin Institute of Health of the Charité.
Current Topics in Bioinformatics on June 13 in Berlin
The importance of Computational Biology has recently become visible to the general public, especially in the fight against the corona virus. For this reason, this year’s Current Topics in Bioinformatics conference will focus on modelling in the fields of virology, epidemiology and the optimization of vaccines.
The top-class symposium will be held in Berlin on June 13, 2022 for the 17th time and underlines the importance of the capital for Computational Biology. The steering committee of the symposium is composed of: Prof. Dr. Uwe Ohler, Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine; Prof. Dr Martin Vingron, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics and Dr Bertram Weiss from Bayer AG. HealthCapital is the organizer of the symposium.
- Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Current Topics in Bioinformatics 2022: “AI and modelling techniques for fighting infectious diseases” | Healthcare industry cluster Berlin-Brandenburg (healthcapital.de)
- Workgroup “Medical Bioinformatics” at the Zuse Institute https://www.zib.de/de/visual/bioinformatics-medicine
- Bioinformatics at the RKI https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/Institut/OrgEinheiten/MF/MF1/mf1_node.html
- Einstein Center Digital Future https://www.digital-future.berlin/ueber-uns/einstein-center-digital-future/
- Core Unit Bioinformatics (CUBI) https://www.cubi.bihealth.org/
- WHO Hub
- Master’s degree in Digital Health HPI/Uni Potsdam
- Berlin Institute for the Foundation of Learning and Data (BIFOLD) https://bifold.berlin/de/