The scientific mission of Sybacol

The steady increase in human life expectancy in developed countries since the mid-nineteenth century must be regarded as a triumph of public health and medical care. However, it also means that more people live long enough to suffer from ageing-associated diseases including major killers such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart failure, cancer or renal disease as well as a broad range of neurologically related debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer‘s and Parkinson‘s diseases.

Therefore, the older section of today‘s population is being in­creasingly affected by these diseases, thereby causing enormous challenges both for individuals and ­societies in terms of health and life quality as well as economic burden.

Thus, there is an urgent need for scientists and clinicians to join forces to find solutions for ageing-associated health problems as a first step to not only improving the life quality concerns of the public but also to relieving the current economic burden on the limited resources of the public health and medical care systems faced by governments.

Systems biology in ageing research

The ageing process is highly complex and many aspects of this process are still not understood. However, despite this complexity, recent research has shown that different genetic and environmental interventions can lead to improved health and increased lifespan in laboratory model organisms. In addition, extension of healthy lifespan was observed to be accompanied by prevention of diverse ageing-related pathologies. These latest findings have opened up a promising new avenue for the prevention of ageing-associated diseases by discovering novel interventions and developing new thera­pies that specifically target the ageing process itself.

Sybacol’s vision

The overarching goal of the Sybacol initiative is to advance current understanding of the dynamics of the ageing process and ageing-associated diseases at the level of molecular systems biology as a first step to opening new channels of drug discovery. To this end, Sybacol investigators made concerted and strenuous efforts to (1) obtain a better understanding the kinetics of signalling and gene networks regulating lifespan, (2) predicting pathway interactions and possible interventions by genome-wide analyses of gene regulatory networks, (3) carrying out stringent tests of these predictions in model organisms, (4) identifying new biomarkers for ageing and ultimately, (5) developing novel treatment strategies for ageing-associated diseases.

Sybacol’s work plan

To achieve its vision, Sybacol has united groups from both the University of Cologne and the new Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing and the newly strengthened Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology and has formed an interdisciplinary research community performing frontier research in systems biology of ageing and ageing-associated diseases. Moreover, a new fully tenured W3 Professorship for systems biology of ageing was established and several additional new systems biology groups were recruited. Collectively, this close-knit research community combines a wealth of expertise ranging from cell biology, genetics and molecular medicine to bioinformatics, mathematics and theoretical physics, thereby transcending traditional borders of medicine and the natural sciences in a highly collaborative effort between experimental and theoretical groups. This interdisciplinary cooperation with its combination of theory, observation and modelling focuses on two major research areas in ageing research, systems approaches to gene regulatory networks of longevity and microRNA-dependent control of gene regulatory networks in metabolism and stress resistance. 

Together, this unique constellation of faculty and facilities based at the University of Cologne campus did enable Sybacol to be best positioned to achieve its scientific mission -- improving health and life quality for the public and relieving financial burden for the society.

Sybacol Projects Office

The Sybacol coordinators are supported by a Projects Office headed by Dr. Martin Höhne.


The coordinators of Sybacol

Prof. Adam Antebi

Prof. Thomas Benzing

Prof. Andreas Beyer


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