Understanding the causes of disease to find new treatments
To understand what causes a disease, scientists often create a disease model – a biological system in the lab that mirrors a disease or shows some of the same disease processes.
Such a model could be cells growing in a Petri dish, or organisms that lack a certain cell type, tissue, or organ structure. Studying these cells or organisms under controlled lab conditions removes the randomness of the environmental influences that affect humans. Disease processes can also be studied using computer models or statistical approaches.
EMBL scientists study models for several common human diseases. By letting cells grow into spherical assemblies called organoids, they can study the role of individual genes in processes such as cancer development, or investigate how cancerous cells react to drug treatment. Bioinformaticians develop computer models to simulate the processes by which viruses infect their host cells and multiply within them.
Other researchers engineer specialised scaffolds on which they can grow cells into defined layers, similar to tissues found in the body. These cells can be used to study biological processes associated with vascular disease or malaria. All of these systems help us to better understand human diseases and may lead to new approaches for their treatment.
Scientists in this unit use integrated structural and computational techniques to study biology at scales from molecular structures to organismal communities.
At its sites in Hamburg
and Grenoble, EMBL provides its researchers and hundreds of external users each year with access to world-leading sources of X-ray and neutron radiation, enabling them to study the structures of biological molecules.