Bonn (Germany), April, 5th, 2019. The German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) is celebrating its tenth anniversary today with a ceremonial act. Guests at the event include Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek and Klaus Kaiser, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Ministry of Culture and Science of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The DZNE was founded on April 3, 2009 by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the involved German federal states (Bundesländer). Since then it has developed into an internationally renowned research institution. Today, the DZNE comprises ten site nationwide and around 1,100 employees from more than 50 different nations. It cooperates closely with universities, their clinics and other research institutions. The DZNE is a member of the Helmholtz Association and is funded by the BMBF and the Bundesländer that are home to DZNE sites.
Anja Karliczek, Federal Minister of Education and Research, said on the occasion of the anniversary: “Dementia changes everything. Memory loss has a severe impact on the lives of patients and their families. There is still no known cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s. As more people live longer the number of patients is on the rise. This is why we urgently need dementia research. Care and research need to work hand in hand in order to ensure that patients benefit from medical progress as quickly as possible. The DZNE can look back on ten years of excellent research aimed at enabling optimum treatment and developing prevention strategies.”
An infrastructure for cutting-edge research
New research buildings were created for the DZNE at almost all its sites. Their construction was largely supported financially by the hosting Bundesländer, the BMBF or cooperation partners. In Bonn, for example - the largest site of the DZNE with almost 600 employees - the Federal Government and the State of North Rhine-Westphalia have jointly invested 126.8 million euros in a new building. “The state of North Rhine-Westphalia is pleased to have contributed to creating a site for cutting-edge research with the DZNE’s new building in Bonn. Here, experts from all over the world are working on strategies against dementia and other consequences of neurodegenerative diseases. Such a research institution is a jewel for the region and the whole of North Rhine-Westphalia,” said Klaus Kaiser, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry of Culture and Science of North Rhine-Westphalia. “We are also pleased that the DZNE is represented twice in North Rhine-Westphalia through its sites in Bonn and Witten. This covers the entire spectrum from fundamental research in the laboratory to patient-oriented care research.”
An interdisciplinary research strategy
“Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases are enormously complex. Only a multidisciplinary research strategy can offer the prospect of new effective strategies against these diseases. With the DZNE, we have therefore established an organisation that brings together experts from different fields,” said Prof. Pierluigi Nicotera, founding director and chairman of the DZNE’s Executive Board. Over the past ten years, the DZNE has been able to provide important findings. “Our scientists have contributed to a better understanding of disease mechanisms and identified biomarkers that can be useful for diagnosis and in developing new treatments. In addition, we have created a unique clinical network that extends nationwide thanks to our various sites. This enables us to involve large patient groups in the testing of new medical approaches.”
Nicotera indicated that the DZNE not only aims to pave the way for future therapies, but also intends to provide help already now: “Our health care research investigates how the situation of people with dementia and caring relatives can be alleviated. The DZNE has developed and tested measures in a pilot project that can help to improve the quality of life. Our goal is that these measures get established in routine care. We are also breaking new ground in research on prevention. With the Rhineland Study, which takes place in Bonn, we aim to find out which protective and risk factors influence the health of adults up to old age. For this, we want to register the health development of up to 30,000 people over decades.”
Potential for new therapies
On the fight against Alzheimer’s, the most common neurodegenerative disease, Nicotera said: “While many treatments have so far been not successful, we see potential in treatment strategies that are based on relatively recent findings. We believe that anti-inflammatory therapies are particularly promising.” Already, the DZNE is researching therapy approaches that influence the immune system. It will likely take more than just one remedy to fight Alzheimer’s, Nicotera said: “The future probably lies in very early treatment and combination therapies.”
IT for research
Nicotera also stressed the importance of IT technologies: “IT technologies will play an increasingly important role in the analysis of research data. Tech giants are becoming more and more involved in medical research and investing massive resources. As a publicly funded institute, we want to keep pace. At the DZNE, we therefore use artificial intelligence and novel computer technologies for the evaluation of big data, such as that generated in genome analysis. In this way we want to better understand the complexity of neurodegenerative diseases, identify risk factors and lay the foundations for new therapies. Along these lines, when applying IT technologies, we value data security and cooperate with CISPA, the Helmholtz Center for Information Security, to secure sensitive human data.”