Pooling research to tackle common diseases

What do cancer, dementia, infections, diabetes and cardiovascular and lung diseases all have in common? They are all major widespread diseases. Health research is helping to develop new methods of treatment and prevention.

Senioren, die Schach spielen
We are living longer thanks to improvements in quality of life and medical health care. © Projekttraeger DLR Gesundheitsforschung im Auftrag des BMBF

The good news is that we are living longer thanks to improvements in quality of life and medical health care. Projections indicate that one in three people in Germany will be 65 or older in 2050. On the other hand, rising life expectancy increases the need for medical progress. The number of people who suffer from common diseases such as cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular diseases continues to rise. This poses new challenges for medical research and health care. Since 2009, the Federal Research Ministry and the Länder (the states) have phased in new research structures, known as the German Centres for Health Research, to tackle these challenges.

Scientists at these Centres with sites across Germany are working together to find ways to tackle the major common diseases more effectively. The major questions of health research can only be solved with a long-term strategy in an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional approach. Funding for the German Centres for Health Research has been planned for the long term. The Federal Government covers 90 percent of that funding.  The remaining 10 percent is the responsibility of the Länder in which each Centre’s institutions are located. Together, the Federal Government and the Länder provided more than 600 million euros to establish the Centres between 2009 and 2014. Approximately 250 million euros are now being provided each year.

The German Centres for Health Research

The six German Centres for Health Research (DZG) carry out research into common diseases of particular importance. They each consist of several partner sites. Funding is provided to the following Centres:

One objective of the German Centres for Health Research: Research findings should be translated more quickly into medical care.
  • German Cancer Consortium (DKTK)
  • German Centre for Diabetes Research (DZD)
  • German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK)
  • German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF)
  • German Centre for Lung Research (DZL)
  • German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)

Scientists and researchers from universities, university hospitals, the Helmholtz Association, the Max Planck Society, the Leibniz Association, Fraunhofer and the government research institutions cooperate in an interdisciplinary approach in the individual Centres. The members of the German Centres for Health Research are networked not only within the various Centres but also with the other Centres and with other university and non-university partners in Germany. The aim of the Centres’ research activities is to improve care, diagnosis and treatment, as well as to devise strategies for individualized treatment.

Translation: Putting research results to use more quickly

The guiding principle of the German Centres for Health Research is that research findings should be translated more quickly and effectively into medical care - from the research laboratory to the patient. Currently, this translation process often takes too much time.

For translational research to work efficiently, cooperation with private enterprise is needed. The German Centres for Health Research therefore place an emphasis on the potential for commercial exploitation of research results and on cooperation with business enterprises. Thus, the long-term support of the Centres also strengthens the innovative potential of the health industry.

Advisory bodies comprising high-ranking international experts assist the work of the Centres. This is intended to ensure that the Centres remain at the forefront of scientific progress. The Centres' scientific excellence and strategic orientation are evaluated at regular intervals by external panels of international experts.

The Federal Research Ministry also funds project-based  research into other common diseases in addition to those covered by the Centres for Health Research. For example, it is funding a nationwide research network on mental disorders and another on musculoskeletal diseases.