The scientists in Dresden work in concert, integrating many different disciplines. They not only study the molecular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease but also the appropriate care of dementia patients. Kempermann’s specialism is the hippocampus, i.e. the region of the brain that concerns memory and is most heavily affected in the case of dementia. At the same time, however, it is “the only structure in the human brain that forms new nerve cells all life long”.
The researchers carry out experiments – including on mice – to answer the question: Why do people who are bodily and mentally active have a lower risk of developing dementia? This involves a holistic understanding of the disease, not just the physiology.
Where human capacities are stretched to their limits, computers or robots might be able to help. ‘Chirurgie der Zukunft’ (Surgery of the Future) is the research area of Stefanie Speidel. The professor for Translational Surgical Oncology works in Dresden at the National Centre for Tumour Diseases (NCT), which was established along with the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, yet another progressive alliance.
Stefanie Speidel compares the technology she uses with a satellite navigation system in a car. During the operation, virtual and augmented reality shows the surgeon the precise location of the tumour as well as the vessels that must not be damaged. Speidel estimates that, in five to ten years’ time, the technology will be ready for application.
Even today, thanks to the robot Da-Vinci, many operations at the Dresden University Hospital have been successfully performed with only five keyhole entry points instead of one large incision in the abdominal wall. Asked whether a robot will one day perform the procedure itself, she replies with a chuckle that there are no such plans as yet. After all, the work being done in Dresden is focused on the future of medicine, not on the elimination of medical practitioners. They must, however, learn to think about their work in a broader, holistic sense, just as Carl Gustav Carus did two centuries before.