Five-Year Anniversary of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases

“The successful growth phase was characterized by the establishment of required internal structures to provide a framework for the scientists. We could already show after five years that the DZNE is able to provide highly relevant science and is now one of the worldwide centers at the forefront of research on neurodegenerative diseases. Our research groups already provide substantial input on improving diagnosis, therapy and health care”, comments Prof. Pierluigi Nicotera, DZNE’s Science Director and Chairman of the Executive Board. The expertise of different fields could be successfully brought together at the nine sites of the DZNE to establish a national center and to enable translational research. “Neurodegenerative diseases are highly complex; therefore a strategic and multi-disciplinary approach is essential to allow new solutions”.

The DZNE was officially founded on 3th April 2009 as the 16th Helmholtz Center and one of the first German Health Research Centers. It has been established by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the participating Federal States. “Focus competences, create a new structure in health research” – this has been the founding idea of the Federal Government. Today, more than 750 people from over 40 nations work at nine sites all over Germany. Today, the DZNE celebrates its five-year anniversary with a gala event and a Science Day. The Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Education and Research, Thomas Rachel, said on the occasion of the jubilee: “Our goal is to enable not only a longer but also a healthy and self-determined life – and thus to ensure real life quality. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research provides the DZNE with around 70 million Euro for the research on new approaches in diagnosis and therapy for diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.” Rachel emphasized: “The DZNE has evolved into one of Europe’s leading and internationally recognized institutions dedicated to the research of neurodegenerative diseases.”

Already over its first five years, the DZNE has also delivered important insights in the fields of diagnosis, prevention, treatment and health care. “DZNE researchers are doing an excellent job for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. There are very promising approaches that could allow active, self-determined and healthy ageing,” said Svenja Schulze, Minister for Innovation, Science and Research of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). “My congratulations to the DZNE, which has succeeded in paving the way for innovative concepts towards new solutions for neurodegenerative diseases.”

Elementary findings in fundamental research have led to a better understanding of how neurodegenerative disease evolve and progress. DZNE researchers have set up new guidelines and innovative imaging methods to improve the assessment of learning and memory capabilities and therefore diagnosis. In clinical research and population studies, the focus was initially on the expansion of organizational structures. The goal of most of these studies is to be able to diagnose neurodegenerative diseases at an earlier stage to initiate treatment in the earliest possible phase.

Researchers of the population studies are working on the implementation of the “Rhineland Study”, a large-scale epidemiologic study. Its purpose is to identify the factors that differ between normal or impaired brain functions. The aim is to examine and monitor more than 30,000 individuals age 30 and up over the next 30 years. In the field of nursing and health care research, DZNE scientists are analyzing and improving existing health care structures and have established new nursing care guidelines. The objectives are to maintain or even increase the life quality as well as the state of health of patients and their relatives.

The scientific achievements of the DZNE are reflected in a large number of more than 1,400 papers in internationally renowned magazines. This underlines the high quality of the groups within all research fields. Two scientific evaluations by national and international scientists in 2012 and 2013 lauded the DZNE’s outstanding scientific quality.

Over the next five years, the goal will be to consolidate the DZNE at the highest level, while still providing growth and development in key areas. One challenge will be to build and move into new research space. Currently, new buildings are constructed at virtually all sites. Thankfully, most of these projects do receive financial support from the BMBF and federal states, where DZNE sites are located. “Within the next five years, the DZNE with its unique structure has to show that it generates an added value in terms of a benefit for patients and of the scientific research performance,” according to Prof Nicotera. “We have to and will increase joint efforts with universities, their clinics and other research organizations like the Max-Planck-Society and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the industry to find solutions to prevent this major catastrophe in health and for people.”

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