Communications and Marketing

“Life Time” – European research for a healthier future

No. 02c2 | 15/01/2019

Our body's cells are constantly changing. But which of these changes are healthy developments and which lead to serious diseases? This is what LifeTime, a new transnational and interdisciplinary initiative of leading European researchers, aims to discover. The consortium is jointly coordinated by the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin and the Institut Curie in Paris, with the Helmholtz Association and the CNRS. Scientists from the DKFZ are also involved in the consortium. Life Time has now cleared an important hurdle: The consortium will be given one million euros and one year to develop a plan to embed its vision for a healthier future within the European research and innovation landscape.

© Spencer Phillips, EMBL-EBI

How can we detect the first signs of disease as early as possible? Could closer investigation at the cellular level help to quickly prevent disease progression through appropriate treatment? The European Union is now investing a million euros over a one-year period to devise the plan for a fundamentally new approach to understanding the constant changes within cells and their relationships to one another, thus creating the foundation for the precision medicines of the future. These funds will go to the international LifeTime consortium, which is jointly coordinated by the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) and the Institut Curie.

The two largest European research organizations – Germany's Helmholtz Association and the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France – are playing a major role in the project. More than 120 scientists at 53 institutions in 18 European countries are supporting the LifeTime consortium, as are more than 60 partners from industry. The European Union will concurrently fund the preparation of five other potential research initiatives. After the first year of funding, it will be up to the European Union to decide if any of them will be continued as a large-scale research initiative.

Unlocking the future: single-cell biology, organoids, and AI

LifeTime's research teams bring together cutting-edge technologies and by collaborating within the project and they can significantly push forward their development in Europe. For example, miniature organs grown in the petri dish – so-called organoids – and other innovative system such as new single-cell biology techniques – recently selected as Science's breakthrough of 2018 – play a crucial role here. The organoids derived from patients' stem cells enable the development of personalized disease models. Combined with the genome editing tool CRISPR, as well as state-of-the-art microscopy, and other models they will help scientists understand how cells stay healthy or progress towards disease and react to therapeutics.

The experiments – performed using high-throughput methods – generate huge amounts of data. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are therefore required for the analysis. The computational strategies identify patterns in the transformation of cells and can, for example, predict the onset of a disease or how a disease will progress. Together with mathematical models that enable the reconstruction of the cells' past development, it is thus possible to infer how healthy cells become unhealthy cells. The scientists are also searching for central controls that can reverse or even completely prevent disease-causing changes.

The proposed groundbreaking initiative brings together not only researchers from the fields of biology, physics, computer science, mathematics, and medicine, but also experts from disciplines such as sociology, ethics, and economics. LifeTime researchers plan to include the public in their work by holding consultations early on to collect wider views and opinions on LifeTime and how it can meet the needs of European society. It is anticipated that the LifeTime initiative will significantly impact the pharma, biotech, and data processing industries, as well as other sectors, while also positively influencing Europe's competitiveness.

More than 60 companies, major European research organizations such as the Helmholtz Association in Germany, the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), and the EU-LIFE Alliance, as well as several national science academies are already supporting LifeTime. "LifeTime is an outstanding project of European pioneers. This interdisciplinary and international cooperation has the potential to raise health research, and thus medical care to a new level. Therefore, we are very pleased that the EU is financing the LifeTime consortium. LifeTime is in the best sense: research for people," says Otmar D. Wiestler, President of the Helmholtz Association.

International consortium

LifeTime is the shared vision of more than 120 leading scientists at over 50 renowned organizations across Europe, who selected 18 partners to submit the proposal.

Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres • French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) • Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) • Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences • Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB) • Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI) • University of Basel • University of Zurich • Central European Institute of Technology • Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics • Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics • German Cancer Research Center • Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine • German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases • Helmholtz Zentrum München • Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research • Saarland University • Technical University of Munich • Julius-Maximilians-Universität • Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (Copenhagen) • Aarhus University • University of Copenhagen • Centre for Genomic Regulation (Barcelona) • French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) • Institut Curie • University of Montpellier • University of Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier • MINES ParisTech • Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland • Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens • Weizmann Institute of Science • Hebrew University of Jerusalem • Sapienza University of Rome • National Institute of Molecular Genetics (Milan) • University of Naples Federico II • University of Padua • University of Milan • European Institute of Oncology • Netherlands Cancer Institute • Radboud University • University Medical Center Utrecht • Hubrecht Institute/Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences • Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência • Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences • Iuliu Haţieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy Cluj-Napoca • Karolinska Institutet • MRC Human Genetics Unit • University of Edinburgh • Wellcome Sanger Institute • Babraham Institute • European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) – European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) • The Francis Crick Institute

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institution in Germany. At DKFZ, more than 1,300 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. DKFZ’s Cancer Information Service (KID) provides individual answers to all questions about cancer for patients, the general public, and health care professionals. Jointly with partners from Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ runs the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) located in Heidelberg and Dresden, and, also in Heidelberg, the Hopp Children’s Cancer Center (KiTZ). In the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center at the NCT and DKTK sites is an important contribution to the endeavor of translating promising approaches from cancer research into the clinic in order to improve the chances of cancer patients. DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.

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