About Anatomy and Embryology

Anatomy: education and research

Prominent research field of the Anatomy and Embryology group is anatomical modeling and labeling based on medical imaging. In this research, data of different medical imaging techniques as RX, CT, (3T) MRI, µCT, µMRI and DTI (Diffusion Tensor Imaging - MRI post processing) are combined. The group developed specialized marker- and contrast procedures for visualization, measurement and comparison of images. The use of sophisticated software packages allows segmentation and 3D reconstruction of the required structures. The application of computer aided techniques has the advantage of a multidirectional approach, measurement of several anatomical parameters at the same time and comprehensible visualization. This research focusses on anatomical variation using statistical shape analysis, important for automatic tissue registration, 3D navigation surgery systems and individualization of generic models.

A second field of research is validation of medical imaging data and relevant tissue characteristics on human cadaver material using classical dissection. Typical applications of these anatomical procedures are guideline development for tissue delineation in radiotherapy planning, neurodynamic modeling, labeling of complex anatomical structures (e.g. brachial plexus, cruciate ligaments and thoracolumbar fascia). New projects are being initiated related to shape variation within large datasets of  virtual anatomical structures and applied to biomechanics.

Finally cytopathogenic effects of host-pathogen interactions in an array of in vitro and in vivo models are investigated at at ultrastructural level in collaboration with the department of pathology, bacteriology and poultry diseases (DI05 Faculty of veterinary medicine).

Embryology: education and research

Next core research theme of the Anatomy and Embryology group is devoted to cell death research. Cell death is intertwined with life in development, homeostasis, pathology, and aging. For example in embryos, cell death sculpts form, opens lumens, separates or splits tissue layers, allows tissue layers to fuse and removes vestigial organs. Until recently, apoptosis was the best-known form of programmed cell death, whereas necrosis was for a long time considered accidental owing to physicochemical injury. However, identification of crucial signalling and execution molecules, which are highly regulated, revealed that necrosis encompasses several cell death modalities  (i.e. necroptosis, ferroptosis) that can be therapeutically targeted. The final fate of almost any dying/dead cells regardless of death type is engulfment by phagocytes. Often cell death leads to rapid plasma membrane permeabilization and to the release of cell contents and exposure of damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) and chemokines/cytokines, granting them the ability to modulate an inflammatory response and thereby contribute to many diseases (cancer, sepsis, neuro-degeneration, stroke).


Our work is directed at understanding the role of cells undergoing different cell death types in modulation of immune responses in cancer and sepsis and elucidating the molecular mechanisms. This research has shown that the cells undergoing necroptosis are capable to cross-prime T cells, to promote the tumour antigen-specific production of IFN-γ and to induce efficient anti-tumour immunity. In a clinical setting, this will become beneficial for patients with apoptosis-resistant cancers, providing that pharmacological strategies are redesigned to compensate for defective cell death signalling by inducing alternative immunogenic cell modalities, such as necroptosis.