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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 1.5 million people in Germany are affected by dementia. In addition, around 300,000 people in Germany are known to have Parkinson's disease.

We want to understand how brain diseases 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 that connect the brain to the muscles 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 prevention and diagnostics: How can these diseases be detected early or even prevented? 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. We are investigating how this care should ideally be designed and organized.

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 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.


Pierluigi Nicotera

Programme spokesperson Neurodegenerative Diseases
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Katja Großmann

Forschungsbereichsbeauftragte Gesundheit

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