3rd-semester electives

To provide you with even more opportunities for gathering lab and computer experience or diving into a new field of biomedicine while following your individual interests, you can choose from five electives for your third Master semester. All of them offer valuable knowledge, the only question is: Which avenue do you want to explore?


Molecular diagnostics

You need molecular diagnostic techniques to make personalised medicine possible. Tissue or blood samples of patients suffering from malignancies are investigated for so-called driver mutations: First, you isolate nucleic acids from tiny pieces of tumour material. Second, you employ highly sensitive molecular methods such as quantitative PCR, digital droplet PCR and NGS methods to identify those genetic aberrations. Genetic variants and suspect mutation combinations are then run through genetic databases to discern their relevance and frequency for certain cancer types: If you can characterise malignant cells by their individual genetic traits, it can help to design personalised therapy options for the patient.


Learning the trade, you will work in the lab and at the computer. To prepare samples, run various types of PCR or know how to use NGS in diagnostics is important. But it’s also important to learn how to run results through data bases, use software and write code: the huge data sets generated by molecular diagnostic methods need to be analysed, otherwise the information you are looking for stays hidden in the bits and bytes - just like the needle in the proverbial haystack.

Once you have located the mutation causing the disease, often individual treatment options can be designed. Gaining more knowledge on molecular markers leads to better and more treatment options for many diseases in the long run.




Epithelial barrier functions

epidermisTo fend off pathogens and potentially harmful effects of the surrounding environment, the human body is protected by a continuous cell layer, the so-called epithelium, which serves as a barrier between inside and outside. The most well-known epithelium is our outermost layer of skin, the epidermis; among other organs, the respiratory and the intestinal tracts are equipped with epithelia, too. How epithelial tissues ward off dangerous influences and which other vital functions they fulfil is something you will be studying during the semester: The epithelium does not just serve as a 'dumb' physical barrier; epithelial cells are smart cells that fulfil important tasks in innate defense. They sense the presence of potential pathogens, initiate defense reactions and allow beneficial microbes as neighbours. Epithelial defense strategies against viruses including SARS-CoV-2 are a topic as well as  the crucial role of antimicrobial peptides in epithelial defense, and how a disturbed epithelial homeostasis is associated with inflammatory and infectious diseases is another... and what have biofilms to do with any epithelium? Finally, you spend time in the lab to explore the antimicrobial peptides on your skin surface to investigate how they help us to survive in a world full of microbes.

Picture by wikiImages on Pixabay


Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine

Imagine you have a nasty accident and break your leg, diagnosis: complex debris fracture. It will take a long time until that fracture has healed. If that fracture - or even bone loss - exceeds a certain size or complexity, surgical support and reconstruction efforts will be necessary. This may mean your bone has to be fixed with lots of metal to stabilise it during the regeneration process or even that bone tissue needs to be transplanted from other body areas: Complications can occur resulting in pain, delayed healing and incomplete recovery. In any case your muscle strength will be severely affected, training your leg to walk and run like before will be a daunting task.

But what if the regeneration process for bone and other tissues could be vastly accelerated by being able to apply the advanced understanding of the cellular and molecular processes governing tissue?

bone tissueTissue engineering and regenerative medicine combines the knowledge gained in cell and molecular biology with new engineering technologies and materials science. Researchers aim to identify the growth factors that support stem cell growth in bone and deliver them on demand; scientists also work on developing bioengineering technologies and bio-functional materials for growing a personalized bone construct even in a petri dish. Eventually, they may succeed in implanting this new bone tissue into your badly fractured bone speeding up recuperation.

You are introduced to what is already possible today and which solutions for medical problems are in the making. Stem cells are part of many approaches to repair damaged tissues from bone to organ parts that steadily deteriorate, do not heal well or have to be replaced because of injury or disease. From learning about stem cells, bioactive factors and biomaterials used in tissue regeneration to the technical and biological know-how needed for organ and bio-printing, you cover regenerative medicine in lectures and seminars. And to put theory into practice, you spend time in the lab, hands-on! Cell and molecular biology, materials science and engineering skills all play their parts in Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. If you are interdisciplinarily minded, this may be for you.

Picture: Clinical standards and tissue engineering technologies creating bone implants

with a spongiosa-like architecture © Sabine Fuchs, Dept. of Trauma Surgery, Kiel University Medical Centre



Clinical, molecular and diagnostic neurosciences


The brain constitutes us as human beings. At the same time it is the most complex and least-understood of all the human organs. Western lifestyle and the effects of an ageing population make neurological disorders much more widespread than they used to be - case numbers for stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases have never been higher. At the same time, the biological basis of genetically complex neurodegenerative diseases is still  not well understood and treatments altering their natural course are not available.

In Clinical, molecular and diagnostic neurosciences you will be introduced to the macroscopic and microscopic anatomy of the brain. Building on this foundation you will be acquainted with the basic and higher brain functions. The psychological, anatomical and molecular basis of learning and memory in mice and men as well various other functional systems, e.g. locomotion, are also part of the course curriculum.

The next area to explore is brain dysfunction, starting with the clinical and epidemiological pictures of neurological diseases.  Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease will feature as the most important neurodegenerative diseases to highlight common as well as disease-specific mechanisms, features and treatment developments. The immune privilege of the nervous system, the clinical side and the pathogenesis of neurological autoimmune disorders will be discussed using the examples of Multiple sclerosis and autoinflammatory encephalitis. You also study the different types, pathomechanisms and therapeutic advances in neurovascular disorders discussing stroke. An introduction to paroxysmal disorders like epilepsy and pain will occupy the last few sessions of the semester.

In summary: From neuroanatomy and -physiology via neuroimmunology and neurogenetics to real-case discussions you will be immersed in neurosciences and discuss it with your teachers. It goes without saying you will also gain a lot of insight into what makes us tick....

Picture by Sabine Zierer on Pixabay




Metabolomics introduces you to today's universe of metabolites: Metabolites are small molecules that are present in virtually every body fluid, organ and tissue. From what we currently know, the metabolome (which is what you call the entirety of all those metabolites in the human body) can be influenced by metabolic disruptions and malfunctions or external factors such as our diet. That way, the metabolome may play a role in disease development. If you want to investigate metabolites to learn more about the metabolome and its role in the body, measuring biosamples using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (or NMR for short) is the way to do it.

The big data sets you receive then need to be analysed with bioinformatical and statistical tools. You will be trained to do this hands-on, processing data on the computer: It does not get much more cutting edge than being trained in omics approaches in biomedicine.


Cardiovascular epidemiology

Epidemiology investigates how diseases are distributed in a population, what the risk factors for disease development and spreading are. In epidemiology, you analyse the factors that influence disease manifestation, such as environmental factors, genetic predisposition, physical condition or age of onset. Epidemiological studies usually include clinical and molecular phenotyping, which makes standardized examination protocols and large-scale biobanking important cornerstones.

The epidemiology of cardiovascular diseases is in the spotlight nowadays because cardiovascular diseases are one of the leading causes of death worldwide. A better understanding of the complex structure of cardiovascular disease factors offers important insights into the role epidemiology plays when you investigate diseases in order to prevent, diagnose and cure them.