According to the statutes of the Academy its mission is to promote the sciences and humanities in every respect and in every field, particularly in fundamental research. In 2009, the Austrian Academy of Sciences was ranked 82nd among the 300 topmost research institutions in the world, based on its internet presence, by Webometrics Ranking of World Research Centers.
The Academy of Sciences has established over 25 institutions. In 2012, a reorganization prompted the outsourcing of various institutions to Universities as well as mergers.
In the field of human science, there are the Institute for the Study of Ancient Culture which is well-known for the analysis of excavation results in Carnuntum and Ephesos, as well as the Institute for Interdisciplinary Mountain Research, the Institute of Culture Studies and Theatre History and others.
The biggest facilities however focus on natural science: The Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (which is operated in cooperation with Boehringer Ingelheim), the Gregor Mendel Institute, the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information, the Acoustics Research Institute and the Space Research Institute.
Austrian Academy of Sciences research articles from Innovation Toronto
In the latest edition of the professional journal “Science”, Jürgen Knoblich, a leading authority on stem cells and deputy director of the IMBA (Institute for Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences), together with international experts, presents a first ethical guideline for research into human organ models. In the article, he also argues for critical and responsible engagement with the new technology.
Organ models, which are cultivated in the laboratory from human stem cells and grow into living tissue, are one of the most important scientific breakthroughs of recent years. Scientists, patients and the wider public have high hopes for this emerging field of research, as so-called “organoids” have a huge potential in terms of research and modern medicine. In-vitro organ models allow complex organ development studies and pathogenetic analyses to be carried out directly in human tissue. New substances and therapies can be tested on human material much more quickly using this technology. Regenerative medical practice could conceivably cultivate the required tissue in the laboratory from the cells of a patient and, lessen dependency on organ donations. The use of organoids could also significantly reduce the need for animal experiments, although biologists believe these cannot be completely eliminated in the foreseeable future.
Organoids – high hopes and bioethical dilemmas
From an ethical perspective, this new technology raises a whole range of issues. These include important caveats in relation to the use of human embryonic stem cells or the application of gene therapies to prevent or treat diseases. Jürgen Knoblich believes that “the development of organoids is unexplored scientific territory. As a researcher, I am fascinated by the huge potential of this technology. However, I also believe it’s my job to actively promote dialogue around responsible research and to engage the wider public in the discussion”. In 2013, the stem cell specialist made scientific headlines worldwide with his laboratory-cultivated brain models. In the latest policy statement issued in collaboration with the immunologist and geneticist Hans Clevers and the bioethicist and Member of the Dutch Parliament, Annelien Bredenoord, the researchers also examined for the first time the most important ethical dimensions of organoid research. According to Knoblich, “we hope that our work has created a solid foundation for the establishment of framework conditions for responsible engagement with this new technology”.