Spin for Life - A research campus for the medicine of tomorrow
An alliance of high-ranking research institutes and leading medical and technology companies is applying for one of the large-scale research centres that the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will fund as part of the "Structural Strengthening Act for Coal Regions" with its vision "Spin for Life". The University of Leipzig (Tanja Gulder), the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (Nikolaus Weiskopf), the Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nano Systems (Harald Kuhn) and the Medical Faculty of the Leipzig University (Michael Stumvoll) are leading the project. With the help of a completely new spin technology, the network aims to develop individualized, predictive, and preventive medicine in smartphone format. Diseases such as neurodegeneration, tumors, and cancer could thus be detected more quickly, even before serious damage occurs. The special feature: Science and industry are to work so closely together, on one campus, right from the start, that groundbreaking innovations are brought into practice faster than before. A true spin valley could thus be created, an incubator that paves the way for numerous new ideas and companies.
In particle physics, spin is the intrinsic angular momentum of the smallest particles in atoms. It is an invariable internal property of particles and is central to quantum mechanics: the world of the smallest energies and quantities with major implications for our lives.
“Since spin is the basis of our entire existence and thus part of our modern medicine and biochemistry, more knowledge about it also means being able to fundamentally change things,” explains Tanja Gulder, Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Leipzig. “There is huge potential in this.” A whole new key technology could emerge as a result.
The idea: individualized, predictive and preventive medicine in smartphone format. To date, one standard therapy has been used for a disease, Spin for Life wants to create a treatment that is perfectly tailored to the patient. Neurodegenerative diseases, tumors and cardiovascular diseases could thus be detected before serious damage occurs. Fitness and pandemic tests or therapy support from a distance would then also be possible. In the long term, the researchers want to create a compact measuring device that can record the biochemical processes of each individual cell of the body and combine them into an overall biochemical picture of a person. This should lead to technologies that solve many of the problems of ageing societies.
However, many yet unanswered questions need to be answered before this can happen. One of the advantages of this technology – the low energy – is also one of the biggest hurdles. “The measurement signals are often so small that you can hardly distinguish them from interfering signals,” explains Nikolaus Weiskopf, Professor of Neurophysics and Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig. Possible solutions: More sensitive contrast agents and measurement techniques as well as more efficient data analyses that also incorporate AI methods.
The team behind Spin for Life is a consortium of chemists, computer scientists, physicists, and physicians from international and German universities, institutes of the Max Planck, Fraunhofer, and Helmholtz Societies, as well as the innovation departments of the three major manufacturers of medical products Siemens Healthineers, Bruker, and Bayer.
Understanding basic principles, improving analyses and therapies, creating future-oriented medicine - Spin for Life wants to unite the concentrated knowledge on one campus for this purpose. In addition, a campus-owned research hospital where large-scale studies can be conducted directly on site will allow findings to be fed back directly into science and industry. The exact location of the campus in the former Central German lignite mining area is still unclear. What is certain, however, is that science, business, and society are to meet in one place, not just in the abstract, but in reality.
This close link between basic research and business is what makes Spin for Life a unique venture. Many research projects end when it comes to putting the results into practice. Spin for Life will avoid the usual walls between academic research and industry. Here, people want to work together from the very beginning, as soon as new ideas emerge. Feasibility follows on directly from development. This makes the development process of new technologies much more efficient. The next big innovation, according to the vision, could no longer be 20 years away, but rather 10. Lives could be saved faster and quality of life improved. "We can actually achieve true precision medicine with this”, says Dr. Rebecca Ramb, Vice President of Magnetic Resonance Research and Clinical Translation at Siemens Healthineers.
Saxony, and the greater Leipzig-Chemnitz area, is an ideal location for this innovation. Real interdisciplinary, technological research excellence is already concentrated here, in a compact area. In addition, there is the age-old spirit of entrepreneurship and invention. Spin for Life wants to build on this tradition and harness the energy inherent in such a rapidly developing region. Energy that is needed to fuel the new era following lignite.
The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding two new large-scale research centres with international appeal in Lusatia, in Saxony, and in the central German mining region. It is all part of the Coal Regions Structural Strengthening Act and the associated initiative "Knowledge creates perspectives for the region!” The centres are intended to attract outstanding scientists from all over the world and to contribute to solving the major challenges facing society with excellent research. In this way, the structural change in Lusatia, in Saxony, and in the central German mining region is to be shaped in a future-oriented way and economic growth and new jobs are to be created. The new research centres should therefore focus, in particular, on the transfer and promotion of innovation in the region, in Germany, and in Europe. This should lead to the creation of new forward-looking models in which science and industry work even more closely together.