In order to understand when and where in the body the biological decision between disease and health is made, analytical methods that simultaneously map information on different classes of molecules and their spatial distribution patterns are needed. The aim of the Biomarkers research programme is to identify biological characteristics in the blood or tissue to facilitate an early diagnosis or therapy tailored to individual requirements using 4D analysis. In modern medicine, reliable markers expand the options for evidence-based diagnostics that enables differentiated therapy tailored to individual requirements. Marker-based diagnoses make it possible to subdivide diseases into subtypes and therefore adapt treatments to specific patients. Using predictive markers, when administering cancer therapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors for example, it is possible to determine whether the treatment would be effective in individual cases.
Biological markers can be different small or large molecules. Specific conclusions can be drawn about metabolic changes and the modulation of protein functions using amino acids, lipids and metabolites. Proteins serve mainly as markers for the change in cellular structures and signal paths within a cell or cell cluster.
Research work at ISAS involves identifying, investigating and validating biomarkers for different disease profiles and stages. The focus of the research programme is on markers for use in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases in cardio-oncology and also diseases which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes.
Prerequisite: High-precision measurement methods
The scientists not only devote their time to the discovery and validation of biomarkers, they also research methods which can be used to more effectively detect markers in complex biological matrices. In view of the huge number of potential analytes in biological systems, measurements need to be carried out to a high degree of precision: Omics technologies. The expression ‘Omics’ refers to research into bioanalytical methods, such as genomics, lipidomics, metabolomics or proteomics, which can be used to investigate biomolecules from tissue samples or other biological samples at global level. An important driving force behind this technology and data-intensive method is the possibility of verifying known molecular correlations and also generating new hypotheses if to date unknown correlations have been discovered.
Omics technologies are therefore an important starting point in personalised medicine (precision medicine). On the one hand, they produce multi-dimensional data sets (in unprecedented quality), which enable conclusions to be drawn about disease processes and potential treatment approaches and on the other, multiomics data sets for non-directional analyses can be used to demonstrate new correlations between the various molecule classes. Scientists at ISAS devote their time to developing tools for integrating multiomics data sets. They combine various analysis techniques such as electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS), MALDI (Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization), imaging mass spectrometry and light and fluorescence microscopy.
Furthermore, the researchers use nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), for example, in order to analyse the metabolome of 3D cell cultures (organoids). Using NMR spectroscopy, they can selectively analyse defined metabolite sets for early diagnosis of diseases or for monitoring the success of treatments. Furthermore, they apply non-directional analyses in order to investigate metabolic networks.