DESY enjoys international renown as a basic research centre specialising in accelerator physics, photon research and particle physics. However, few are aware that DESY, a publicly funded national research centre and member of the Helmholtz Association, also co-operates with industry. DESY’s offers range from comprehensive scientific advice to the conception and implementation of investigations at its various measuring stations. A separate staff unit for innovation and technology transfer mediates between interested companies and the research experts.
Industry Relations Managers – “face to customer“
Dr. Sabine Jähmlich, Industry Relations Manager and a biologist at DESY, takes interested companies by the hand. “We know the equipment as well as the scientists and their expertise right up to the various workshops for the development of equipment and technologies, and thus function as a kind of face to the customer. This function in sensible because the possibilities offered to the industry at DESY are manifold, among other things because DESY uses numerous tailor-made technologies that are not standard.“
Working in unimagined, unexplored areas
“As a basic research centre, we always work beyond what is feasible today,” Jähmlich stressed, citing PETRA III as an example: “The ring accelerator for electrons offers excellent possibilities for experiments and investigations using X-rays of the highest brilliance with which material samples e.g. can be X-rayed with atomic accuracy. PETRA III is about to be upgraded. “We will take the ring to the next generation with lasers, magnets and detectors that do not even exist, which means we’re working on answers from the realm of the unimagined and unexplored.”
Volkswagen using beamline for materials research
The Volkswagen Group recently conducted research into the Helmholz-Zentrum Geesthacht’s beamline at DESY as part of an EU project. “A cylinder head was placed entirely in the X-ray beam to detect possible weak points deep in the material by means of residual stress measurements and, if necessary, to change details in the construction accordingly,” said Jähmlich. In the past, long-term tests had to be done to identify possible weak points in the material. The X-ray method delivers results swiftly and also cuts costs and saves time.
Tracking down cancer with X-ray crystallography
The pharmaceutical industry uses all these opportunities to investigate e.g. proteins for developing new drugs. “Proteins are the molecules of life. If their structure is known exactly, it is possible, for instance, to customise active substances that specifically block certain proteins and thus hinder undesired functions,” said Jähmlich, adding, “X-ray crystallography can be used to examine the structure and interactions of proteins with atomic accuracy. This approach can save time in drug development.” So-called structural biology deciphers the exact function of biomolecules via their structure. The findings about the molecular mechanisms behind the development of infections, high blood pressure or cancer, e.g. are of interest for collaborations between research and the pharmaceutical industry. DESY offers ideal conditions for such joint efforts.
Decoding molecules on an atomic level
The Berlin-based pharmaceutical company NOXXON, in co-operation with the Universities of Hamburg and Aarhus, Denmark, has deciphered the spatial structure of two medically promising molecules from the new active substance group of Spiegelmers at the beamline of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) at DESY. Spiegelmers are based on building blocks of nucleic acids (RNA or DNA) that are responsible for storing or transmitting genetic information or regulating genes in the organism. They can play key roles in combatting inflammation in the body and have already been successfully tested in clinical use. Decoding at the atomic level gives researchers deeper understanding of how these molecules work.
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