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Research Field Health

Health Research in the Helmholtz Association aims to unravel the complex causes of major chronic diseases and develop novel strategies for prevention, early diagnostics and effective therapies for the benefit of patients.

Goals

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Forscherinnen im Labor des Helmholtz Institutes for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS). Bild: HIPS/HZI

Their aim is to help develop efficient methods for the early detection, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of these major common diseases. The research on complex and often chronic illnesses requires interdisciplinary approaches, which the Helmholtz centres implement in cooperation with partners from medical schools, universities, other research organisations and industry. The Helmholtz centres active in the field of health research perform outstanding basic research and apply their expertise to the development of new methods for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. They are making this expertise available to the German Centres of Health Research, which were founded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in order to improve the translation of basic research findings into clinical applications.

Outlook

The long-term goal of health research at the Helmholtz Association is to improve medical care and quality of life for the population into old age. Individually tailored options for prevention and treatment will play a vital role in the future, but it will also be important to better understand the role of the metabolic syndrome as a risk factor for several of the major common diseases. A key contribution will be made by the Helmholtz translational centres and the German Centres of Health Research – together with the National Cohort as a resource for epidemiology and prevention research.

Research Programmes


Cancer Research

The goal of the Cancer Research Programme is to make significant improvements in the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

More details about Research Programme Cancer Research


Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease

The programme’s aim is to examine the causes of nervous system disorders and create more efficient methods for their prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

More details about Research Programme Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease


Infection Research

This programme concentrates on the molecular mechanisms responsible for the development and course of infectious diseases.

More details about Research Programme Infection Research


Disorders of the Nervous System

Being able to grow old is not just a blessing. Unfortunately, older people are more likely to suffer from neurological and psychiatric illnesses.

More details about Research Programme Disorders of the Nervous System


Genetic and Environmental Influences on Common Diseases

Diabetes, pulmonary illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, disorders of the nervous system and cancer result from the complex interplay between genetics, environmental factors and personal lifestyles.

More details about Research Programme Environmental Health

The programmes in the funding period 2014-2018

Research activities at the Helmholtz Health Centers are organized in three closely interrelated areas:

- Excellent basic research
- Analysis of complex biological systems
- modeling of disease processes

Major activities in these three research lines are pursued at five Helmholtz Centers: the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, the Helmholtz Center Munich – the German Research Center for Environmental Health (HMGU), the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, and the nationwide German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE). Other Centers that provide important contributions to specific programs are the Research Center Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), and the Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research (GSI).

Our disease-oriented programs and a joint strategy for the third period of program-oriented funding (2014-2018) put the Research Field Health within the Helmholtz Association in an excellent position to make important contributions to the challenging area of biomedical research.

Research is currently being conducted in five programmes.

Research Programmes


Cancer Research

The goal of the Cancer Research Programme is to make significant improvements in the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

More details about Research Programme Cancer Research


Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease

The programme’s aim is to examine the causes of nervous system disorders and create more efficient methods for their prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

More details about Research Programme Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease


Infection Research

This programme concentrates on the molecular mechanisms responsible for the development and course of infectious diseases.

More details about Research Programme Infection Research


Disorders of the Nervous System

Being able to grow old is not just a blessing. Unfortunately, older people are more likely to suffer from neurological and psychiatric illnesses.

More details about Research Programme Disorders of the Nervous System


Genetic and Environmental Influences on Common Diseases

Diabetes, pulmonary illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, disorders of the nervous system and cancer result from the complex interplay between genetics, environmental factors and personal lifestyles.

More details about Research Programme Environmental Health

Strategic Cross-Programme Activities

To be able to respond as quickly as possible to new developments, a flexible system of cross-cutting activities was created to contribute to the further development of important resources and technologies. Here, the fields of epidemiology, translational research, and personalized medicine are given particular significance as regards research policy and strategy.

Epidemiological research
Epidemiological research aims at identifying both the genetic and the environmental risk factors so as to prevent diseases or to detect and treat these at an early stage. In order to create a unique resource for epidemiological research, the Helmholtz Health Research has initiated the development of a major prospective national Cohort Study in Germany. The following Centres participated in the initiative alongside university partners: the German Cancer Research Centre, the Helmholtz Centre Munich, the Max Delbrück Center Berlin-Buch as well as the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research.

Translational Research
The Helmholtz Health Centres adopt a leading role in the field of translational research both nationally and internationally. With the development of local translation centres in cooperation with university hospitals, infrastructure platforms have been created, which will decidedly accelerate the transfer of relevant findings from basic research into clinical applications. The formation of strategic alliances with partners from the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology and medical technology also considerably reinforces the expertise in this field. The long-term collaboration of Helmholtz Health Centres with partners from university medicine and other research institutions will experience a new dimension with the impending establishment of German Centres of Health Research.

Personalized Medicine
The Helmholtz Cross-Program Initiative Personalized Medicine iMed will provide a common platform for high-throughput and information technologies, thereby strengthening the individual medical research disciplines in each center. Joint activities in cancer, metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, infectious and diseases of the nervous system will focus on:

- molecular diagnostics, risk stratification and primary prevention
- individualized therapy
- secondary prevention and outcomes

Large population studies will provide insights into genetic and environmental risk factors for these widespread diseases. By combining the complementary research strengths and technological prowess of participating Helmholtz centers and local partners from university medicine, iMed will generate considerable added value for each research program. iMed will allow the development of risk-adjusted programs for prevention and early diagnosis, thereby enabling targeted interventions even prior to the manifestation of clinical disease.

Insights into Research Field Health

Here, we present projects currently being carried out by scientists at the Helmholtz Centres.

Fr1DA study: Detecting diabetes in children before its onset

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A small drop of blood is all that is needed to take part in the Fr1da study. Image: Helmholtz Zentrum München

Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health

 

Around 30,000 children in Germany currently suffer from the chronic metabolic disorder type 1 diabetes. Every year more than 2,400 young patients join their ranks, with these yearly figures on the rise. The disease is often diagnosed after a life-threatening imbalance of sugar levels in the blood and drastically changes the daily routines of the people affected.

Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, director of the Institute of Diabetes Research, Helmholtz Zentrum München, launched the Fr1da screening study to counter these developments. "Our goal is to offer an early detection examination to all children in Bavaria between the ages of two and five," she says. The aim of the new screening procedure is to detect the disease at an early stage, enabling parents to make timely preparations before symptoms appear. Fr1da was made possible by the findings of scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum München, who demonstrated that in type 1 diabetes, diabetes-specific antibodies are detectable in the blood months or even years before the disease's onset. These findings led to the development of a simple blood test. "With the Fr1da study we are taking a new approach to preventive health care in Bavaria," says Melanie Huml, Bavarian health minister and sponsor of the study. Fr1da has also drawn attention outside Bavaria. Due to its groundbreaking implications, JDRF, the American foundation for type 1 diabetes research, has contributed around one million dollars to the study.

In addition to preventing life-threatening metabolic imbalances, the initiators hope to find answers to a number of other questions. First of all, the Fr1da figures will be compared to other data, including place of residence, diet and caesarean rates. As Ziegler explains, "This will allow us to learn more about the causes of type 1 diabetes, which are still largely unknown." Dealing with this problem is becoming increasingly urgent - every year the number of new cases grows by 6 per cent. Another objective is to facilitate prevention studies like the Fr1da Insulin Intervention Study for Fr1da children, who are given a vaccine in order to delay or prevent the onset of the disease. Initial studies based on orally administered insulin are already yielding promising results.

 

 


Stregthening the immune system against cancer

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Immune cell (lymphocyte) attacking a cancer cell. Image: Liepins/SPL/Agentur Focus

Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association

The immune system distinguishes between what is foreign and what is part of the body. It recognizes and destroys only exogenous structures. Although cancer cells often have surface characteristics that identify them as pathologically altered, the immune system does not recognize them as foreign to the body or mount an attack. MDC and Charité researchers led by Thomas Blankenstein have been able to arm the immune system’s T-cells in the laboratory to enable them to specifically detect and destroy human cancer cells.


Antibodies from the desert as guides to diseased cells

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With the help of proteins, researchers can produce nanoparticles that bind to specific
cancer cells. Image: CBNI, UCD

Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR)

New nanoparticles have the potential to track down tumours under real conditions. Researchers at NanoTracking, a Helmholtz virtual institute at the HZDR, have combined these particles with fragments of a particular antibody that occurs only in camels and llamas. Experiments using human blood serum have shown that under conditions similar to those in the human body the particles bind to the epidermal growth factor receptor – a molecule that is overexpressed in various tumour entities. This allows the diseased cells to be found more easily.


Regenerating damaged nerve cells

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This cross-section of a rat’s spinal cord shows the components in different colours: axons are red, neural interconnections green and motor neurons blue. Image: Jörg Ruschel/DZNE

German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)

Spinal cord injuries rarely heal because neurons do not regenerate spontaneously. Scar tissue and molecular processes inside the nerve prevent the long nerve fibres from growing. Scientists at the DZNE in Bonn have now demonstrated in animal studies that the cancer drug epothilone reduces scarring in spinal cord injuries and activates the growth of injured nerve cells. Both promote neuronal regeneration and improve motor skills in animals


Vaccination cream

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This oblique histological section of the human scalp shows hair follicles cut at different heights. Image: Rollroboter

Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)

 

Vaccines are traditionally introduced into the body by injection, but alternatives have long been sought due to this method’s drawbacks. Researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research have now shown that it is possible to administer vaccines via hair follicles in order to trigger immune responses. Packaged in nanoparticles, the vaccines can penetrate the skin without damaging it. These findings could make a vaccination cream possible in the long term.


Tumor therapy in four dimensions

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A mask can be used to fix a patient’s head in place and t arget a brain tumour more precisely. 4D computer tomography is also able to detect tumour movements in the body. Image: GSI

GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research

Due to a patient’s breathing and digestive functions, tumours in the internal organs such as the lungs or the liver are always in motion. They can shift in all three spatial directions and even twist or tilt. GSI scientists are developing a new method that takes these tumour movements into account during ion beam therapy. With the help of 4D computer tomography, scientists can factor in temporal changes in the tumour’s position during irradiation.


Controlling metastasis with blood vessels lining cells

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A scanning electron micrograph of a lung metastasis: the tumour cells (green) form
solid tumour nodules that are in close contact with the surrounding capillaries (red). Image: Oliver Meckes, Eye of Science/H. Augustin, DKFZ

German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)

At the DKFZ, Helmut Augustin and his colleagues are looking for ways to use combination therapies to prevent cancer metastases from developing. To this end they have combined a low-dose chemotherapy with an antibody against a regulatory protein found in the cells lining blood vessel walls. Mice treated using this method developed fewer metastases and survived longer. The therapy combats metastases in various ways: it prevents blood vessels from nourishing the newly emerging secondary tumours and at the same time blocks the recruitment of cancer- promoting immune cells.

Contact

Prof. Dr. Günther Wess

Research field coordinator Health

Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health

Ingolstädter Landstraße 1
85764 Neuherberg

Phone: +49 89 3187-4409
inaumann (at) helmholtz-muenchen.de
http://www.helmholtz-muenchen....


Dr. Phillip Hahn

Research Field Health

Helmholtz Association

Phone: +49 30 206329-15
phillip.hahn (at) helmholtz.de


27.05.2016