Ageing research cluster in Cologne moves closer together

Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing opens new research building

October 18, 2013

At the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne, scientists from over 20 nations are deciphering exactly how and why living organisms age. The Institute has continued to grow since its foundation in 2008. Its staff members were previously accommodated in several buildings on the campus of the University Hospital of Cologne. The young, international team can now look forward to more laboratory space and shorter distances: the new research building officially opened on 18 October. Around 400 guests from the worlds of science, politics and business attended the event.

The MPI for Biology of Ageing is just six years old but it is already well established internationally, as Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society, emphasizes: “Together with the University of Cologne and other research institutions, one of the leading gerontology clusters in Europe has emerged in the Cologne-Bonn region.” It is not just ageing research in Cologne that is young, so too are the staff. The average age of the around 160 employees is 33. “Our dynamic scientists are working rigorously to find answers to the fundamental questions surrounding the phenomenon of ageing and longevity,” says top-level British researcher Linda Partridge, Managing Director of the Institute. Questions such as: Why do living organisms age? What biological processes determine their life span? What role do genes and the environment play in the ageing process?

In the future, the hitherto three departments and five research groups will address these issues at the Institute’s new research building which has 4,500 square meters of laboratory space – the equivalent of 20 tennis courts. The new building was realized thanks to special funding from the federal state of North-Rhine Westphalia. Funding was also provided by the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, the federal state and federal government. Helmut Dockter, State Secretary at the NRW Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research, remarked: “The MPI for Biology of Ageing’s new building is a further milestone for ageing research in North-Rhine Westphalia. The research infrastructure in this field, which has been developed over a period of time, now has another facet which is making a significant contribution to the solution of society’s greatest challenge – healthy ageing.”

The open architecture is intended to promote the generation of research ideas

The Stuttgart-based architect’s office hammeskrause won the architectural competition in 2008 and designed a concept that focuses on communication and interaction. For example, the triangular atrium that opens up to the roof, offers several areas for scientists to meet. The overall transparent character of the building fosters collaboration, as good scientific ideas are often not produced at the laboratory bench, but during exchange between colleagues. And research into ageing needs good ideas.

Thomas Rachel, member of the Bundestag and the Parliamentary Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, emphasized: “Fundamental research into ageing has to be carried out if we wish to live longer and healthier lives. We also have to ensure that the knowledge acquired is medically beneficial or in other words produces actual improvement for the patients. It will now be possible to conduct this future-oriented health research in Cologne with the new building and in collaboration with the life science cluster.” As yet, age remains one of the major risk factors for developing neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, cancer and cardiovascular problems. It is still not clear why that is the case. According to MPI Director Linda Partridge: “We are currently studying the natural ageing process using model organisms such as fish, mice, flies, worms and yeast cells. In the long term, we want our research to contribute towards healthier ageing in humans and, in light of continually increased life expectancy, be able to remain healthy for longer.” Plans are underway to expand the Institute to 350 employees with the addition of a fourth Director and further research groups.

The relocation to the new research building does not only mean that the staff of the MPI have moved closer together. The partner organization CECAD, the University of Cologne’s excellence cluster in the field of ageing research, is situated on the campus directly opposite. The road towards even closer scientific collaboration has quite literally been made shorter.

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