The combination of physics and medicine usually prompts one to think of more than hundred years of Roentgen photographs, ultrasound, MRI scans, computer tomography, laser scalpels and perhaps robotic surgery. In all these examples, physics has served medicine by harnessing physical phenomena to create better diagnostic and treatment instrumentation. This duet is undoubtedly there to stay and will continue improving modern medical care.
With the establishment of the Max-Planck-Zentrum für Physik und Medizin (MPZPM) in Erlangen, we have opened a new chapter of “Physics and Medicine” where physics plays an integral and indispensable role in understanding life and what leads to anomalies and, thus, disease. MPZPM is an interdisciplinary joint research center run by Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), Erlangen University Hospital (UKER) and Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light (MPL).
The research at MPZPM focuses on the study of cells in the context of their microenvironment, the space that connects and encompasses a variety of cell types in a tissue. It is in this space that immune cells, pathogens, nutrients, as well as (bio)chemical factors meet and interact with each other and with the resident cells of the tissue. The vision of scientists at MPZPM is to map and model the physical phenomena such as cellular forces or particle trajectories, charge and ion gradients, temperature distributions and link them to distinct biological functions. These phenomena will provide cues as to how cell stiffness correlates with cancer metastasis spread, how immune cells respond to perturbations, which microenvironment is needed to regenerate damaged neuronal tissue, or how a virus leads to widespread infection.
To explore and understand the role of a large number of physical parameters such as force, strain, viscosity, temperature, electrical potentials, or various fluidic properties, in a disease phenomenon, it is imperative for physicists, biologists, medical researchers and clinicians to collaborate. However, even more so, it is important that they enter each other's realms of expertise and cultivate a cross-disciplinary attitude towards research.
In 2013, the Free State of Bavaria offered to invest about 60 million Euro in science research via the Max Planck Society. Considering the high standing of the medical research in Erlangen, the recent rapid progress in biophysics and the intellectual challenge of understanding complex systems such as the human body, MPL — headed by one of its directors, Vahid Sandoghdar — proposed to establish a research center as a joint venture with FAU and UKER. After several instances of institutional and state evaluations, the concept of the Max-Planck-Zentrum für Physik und Medizin (MPZPM) was approved. In 2017, a cooperation agreement was signed by the president of FAU, president of Max Planck Society and head of Erlangen University Hospital. In 2018, Jochen Guck, Kanwarpal Singh and Vasily Zaburdaev joined MPZPM, followed by Kristian Franze in 2020.
MPZPM will receive a dedicated modern building at the heart of the campus of the Erlangen University Hospital and directly next to several medical Translational Research Center buildings. With close to 6000 m2 usable surface area, the MPZPM building will host the laboratories and office space for about 180 researchers. The building will also house a facility for in-vivo studies, a cleanroom for lab-on-chip development as well as an advanced microscopy center. The groundbreaking ceremony of the new building was held on May 19, 2021 in the presence of political dignitaries, presidents of FAU and Max Planck Society, head of the University Hospital, Vice President of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the scientific board of MPZPM (video available on YouTube). Completion of the building is expected in 2024.
MPZPM hosts a combination of tenured and nontenured principal investigators who cover various areas of research at the interface of physics and medicine.
Tenured principal investigators:
- Prof. Kristian Franze, Head of Institute of Medical Physics & Microtissue Engineering, Med. Fac., FAU
- Prof. Jochen Guck, Director at MPL & Chair of Experimental Physics, Dept. Phys., FAU
- Prof. Vahid Sandoghdar, Director at MPL & Chair of Experimental Physics, Dept. Phys., FAU
- Prof. Vasily Zaburdaev, Chair of Mathematics in Life Sciences, Dept. Biology, FAU
- Prof. NN, Chair of Biophysics, Dept. Physics, FAU
Nontenured principal investigators:
- Dr. Kanwarpal Singh, Max Planck Research Group Leader
Until the move into the MPZPM building, various groups are housed at MPL (Guck, Sandoghdar, Singh), Dept. of Mathematics at FAU (Zaburdaev), Institute for Medical Technology, FAU (Franze) and Optical Imaging Center Erlangen (OICE, Dulin).