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Infection Research

Infectious diseases continue to pose a global threat to human health despite improved hygiene, vaccination programs and new drugs.

© HZI

The Covid 19 pandemic forcefully demonstrated to people around the world where the weaknesses lie in combating infectious outbreaks. But how can we better protect ourselves from infectious diseases in the future? To find answers to this pressing question, we need to understand, for example, how viruses and bacteria are transmitted, how they interact with the human immune system and how an infection can be treated most effectively.

The "Infection Research" program, supported by the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), is dedicated to these aspects and conducts long-term, transfer-oriented infection research. Scientists at the HZI and its sites combine groundbreaking basic research with the development of new diagnostic methods and drug research to counter one of the world's greatest health threats of the 21st century.

They are developing strategies to contain multidrug-resistant germs, which cost the lives of more than 30,000 people each year in Europe alone. To this end, they are also researching substances from nature as a valuable source of novel anti-infectives.

In addition, they combine research into the function of ribonucleic acid (RNA) with infection biology. They elucidate fundamental control and action principles of RNA molecules in infections and thus create new starting points for the development of innovative forms of therapy. One focus is on the analysis of RNA production in individual pathogen and host cells. This unprecedented resolution allows the struggle between pathogen and host to be elucidated with completely new depth. New ways of understanding infection processes and developing new forms of treatment in the long term are emerging.

The SARS-CoV-2 variants illustrate that pathogen diversity is a key challenge in infection medicine. The encounter of different pathogens and humans causes a very variable spectrum of immune reactions and disease courses and therefore requires individually adapted therapies. The "Infection Research" program is therefore consistently pushing ahead with personalized research approaches in order to find the right therapy for all patients on the basis of modern diagnostics.

The microbial community that lives in and on every human being is also very diverse and individually different. Their composition depends on many factors and also influences the course of infectious diseases in a way that is still largely unknown, which is also part of the research program.

In addition to acute infectious diseases, chronic infections such as hepatitis C affect millions of people. They can cause serious long-term damage such as cancer, autoimmune diseases or neurodegeneration. Therefore, scientists at the HZI are working, for example, on a vaccine that can prevent infection with hepatitis C viruses.

Ever-increasing mobility, and thus pathogens traveling with people, require innovative digital solutions to monitor and contain infection outbreaks. HZI researchers are therefore developing mobile and computer-based methods to collect infection epidemiological data and make it available in a networked form so that infection outbreaks can be quickly detected and controlled. They use modern information technology and artificial intelligence to identify patterns and principles in large and complex infection datasets. In this way, they understand how complex pathogens work and the manifold reactions when they encounter humans. In this way, dangerous germs can be identified more quickly and infection courses can be better predicted in the long term.

The HZI takes a holistic view of infections: Many pathogens are transmitted from animals to humans. The HZI's One Health approach therefore encompasses human health, animal health and environmental factors. It aims to contain the transmission of dangerous pathogens to humans. Within this framework, pandemics will remain an important topic in the future, both socially and within the "Infection Research" program. Through new approaches in drug and vaccine development, mathematical modeling and digital tools such as the infection management software "SORMAS", the HZI is contributing to the fight against the Corona pandemic. Further research projects aim in particular at being better prepared for future pandemics.

Factsheet:

  • Infections are responsible for more than one fifth of all deaths worldwide.
  • The "Infection Research" program is based at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), the largest academic institution in Germany dedicated exclusively to infection research.
  • Research focuses on bacterial and viral pathogens of high clinical relevance.
  • Interdisciplinary teams develop innovative, increasingly patient-specific approaches for rapid diagnostic procedures, novel vaccines and therapies.
  • Results from basic research are to be rapidly and systematically transferred to application.

Contact

Thomas Pietschmann

Program spokesperson Infection Research
Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research

Juliane Kampe

Chief Research Manager Health
Helmholtz Association

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