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Research

The scientific activity of the institute takes place in individual working groups and can be assigned to four subject areas:

  1. Laboratory diagnostics
  2. Viral Immunology / Immuno-oncology
  3. Circulating nucleic acids and therapeutic oligonucleotides
  4. Lipid and cholesterol metabolism

For more detailed information, please see the individual lab pages.

Our lab is focused on the participation of non-immune cells in innate immune sensing, both via activation of cell-intrinsic receptors and through crosstalk with professional immune cells. We would like to elucidate how non-myeloid somatic cells participate in the immune sensory system, both via direct innate immune sensing and in their capacity to influence traditional innate immune cells within the host. In another area of research, we are currently investigating the cell-intrinsic innate immune sensing in induced pluripotent stem-cell derived (iPSC) neurons. Our focus is on nucleic acid recognition in CNS-resident cells and its role in host defense.

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Detection of foreign and harmful nucleic acids by the innate immune system is the central focus of research in the Hartmann lab. Fundamental discoveries about the function of RIG-I in sensing viral RNA has led to a robust program of research in this area and translation to clinical trials with the foundation of the start-up company Rigontec. In addition, the lab also investigates the mechanism and therapeutic potential of several other nucleic acid sensors, namely TLR7/8, TLR9, cGAS, and STING. With the help of the Clinical Study Center and the Central Laboratory of the institute, the lab’s basic research is transferred into clinical application.

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Our lab focuses on how regulation of gene expression is directly executed by the ribosome, particularly in the innate immune response. Our lab studies a fundamentally new mode of gene regulation by which ribosomal RNA (rRNA) regions exposed on the outer shell of the ribosome bind to selective transcripts to control mRNA- and species-specific translation. We combine innovative RNA biochemistry and RNA-based technology development with model systems ranging from yeast to macrophages. Our ultimate goal is to decipher how rRNA-directed specialized translation shapes gene expression to understand the role of the ribosome in innate immune responses.

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For more than 30 years, our research has been focused on examining the metabolism of cholesterol and bile acids. We have developed diagnostic tools for the detection and monitoring of therapeutic interventions for rare hereditary disorders of cholesterol and bile-acid metabolism as well as diseases involving lipid pathophysiology. These extremely rapid analysis methods have made it possible to examine sterol metabolism on a cellular level as well as in vivo and ex vivo. Currently we are using these methods to study: atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases, hepatic diseases, gastroenterologic disorders, and prenatal diagnostics.

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In our lab, the research is focused on studying the antiviral immune response of the innate immune system. This response is primarily initiated and regulated by host receptors that recognize viral nucleic acids. Our laboratory works on structures and modifications that lead to recognition by nucleic acid receptors or prevent detection of endogenous nucleic acids. The identification of minimal nucleic acid recognition motifs can be used to develop drugs for the immunotherapy of viral infections and cancer.

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Innate immune responses can be life-saving or life-threatening. Our group studies immune signaling pathways at the molecular and cellular level, for which we are developing new technologies like CRISPaint and in cellulo sequencing. Besides that, we work on algorithms to search for unknown diversity in sequencing data in order to characterize self-diversifying systems.

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Our lab is focused on a unique group of immune cells, called innate lymphoid cells (ILC). We are trying to understand how these cells protect the body’s barrier sites, such as the lungs, skin, and gut but also how they cause immune pathology upon chronic activation. In particular, we aim to determine how exogenous and endogenous metabolites control the function of ILC in health and disease. Our ultimate goal is to understand the link between Westernization and the growing health problem of chronic inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowl disease (IBD) and asthma.

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