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Neurodegenerative Diseases

Prevent, detect early and treat brain diseases effectively

People are getting older and older. In the last 150 years, life expectancy in Germany has almost doubled and the trend is rising. What is on the one hand gratifying, on the other hand poses great challenges to society. With increasing age, the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson's disease increases significantly. Experts already estimate that more than 1.8 million people in Germany are affected by dementia. In addition, at least 200,000 people in Germany are known to have Parkinson's disease.

We want to understand how diseases of the brain and the nervous system can be prevented, detected early and treated. Helmholtz researchers have dedicated themselves to this goal in the research program "Neurodegenerative Diseases". It is implemented by the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), which is distributed throughout Germany with its ten sites and works closely with university hospitals and other research institutions.

We research common neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, but also rare conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In this disease, the nerve cells responsible for controlling muscles in the brain and spinal cord die - resulting in paralysis. ALS can also occur in young people.

With our research, we cover the entire spectrum: We investigate how neurodegenerative diseases develop, what happens in the cells in the process, how brain function is affected and what risk factors and protective influences there are. We also address questions of diagnostics and prevention: How can these diseases be detected early or even prevented? Findings from our Rhineland Study, one of the most innovative and largest long-term population studies in the world, in which the health data of around 20,000 people in Bonn are collected and analyzed over decades, also help here. We are also breaking new ground in therapy: For example, we are developing customized artificial proteins that can restore nerve connections. And finally, we are looking at the best way to care for patients. In the context of health care research, we investigate how it should ideally be designed and organized and ensure the transfer of these findings to applied care and health care.

All this is aimed at improving the health and quality of life of patients with neurodegenerative diseases. To this end, we also use innovative research methods such as artificial intelligence and deep learning. These are powerful computer networks that are built in such a way that they can learn independently, much like a brain. They are therefore also known as artificial neural networks. With the help of Deep Learning, computer programs are trained to detect tumor diseases independently and precisely by means of imaging procedures. The new approach of Swarm Learning, decisively co-developed at the DZNE, additionally sets new standards for worldwide collaboration with the highest level of data protection in medical research.

The DZNE's clinical research platform, located in Bonn, enables new findings and discoveries to be rapidly and efficiently translated into studies with patients. The dedicated research platform is at the heart of the DZNE: It is the decisive factor in bringing basic research quickly to those affected.


  • In view of the continuously rising average age of the population, the number of people affected by neurodegenerative diseases is also increasing.
  • The research program "Neurodegenerative Diseases" aims to contribute to the prevention of brain diseases, their early detection and effective treatment.
  • The program is based at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), which is widely represented with ten sites in Germany.
  • Research is conducted into common neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's as well as rarer diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
  • State-of-the-art research methods such as artificial intelligence and deep learning are intended to improve diagnosis and therapy, for example through image data analysis in diagnostics.
  • The clinical research platform of the DZNE enables a close link between basic research and clinical research on patients, thus ensuring that research results can be quickly transferred into practice.
  • Up to 20,000 Bonn residents take part in the DZNE's Rhineland Study by undergoing very elaborate examinations every three years. The data collected allow conclusions to be drawn about how hereditary predispositions, lifestyle habits and environmental influences interact in the long term when neurodegenerative diseases develop.

The program is subdivided into the following topics

  • Brain Function
  • Disease Mechanisms
  • Clinical and Health Care Research
  • Disease Prevention and Healthy Aging


Pierluigi Nicotera

Programme spokesperson Neurodegenerative Diseases
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Dr. Katja Großmann

Chief Research Manager Health
Helmholtz Association

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