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The DRFZ investigates the long‐term outcomes of rheumatic diseases, including the impact of current treatment options, in order to inform clinical decision making, identify unmet needs and improve health care. Biomedical research identifies the cells initiating and those driving rheumatic diseases, and the underlying molecular mechanisms. Our aim is the development of improved, personalised, at best curative therapies for patients with rheumatic diseases, and their rapid translation into clinical practice.

30 years DRFZ, Berlin

The DRFZ was founded 30 years ago by the State of Berlin, to whom it is deeply indebted for many years of generous support and constructive assistance. As the only non-university research institution in Germany for rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases, it has been part of the Leibniz Association since 2009 and has also received federal funding since then.

Prof. Andreas Radbruch:

Our aim is to develop an improved, personalised therapy for patients with rheumatic diseases and its rapid implementation into clinical practice.

Research at the DRFZ is divided into three thematic “programme areas“

  • Pathophysiology of Rheumatic Inflammation

In the programme area “Pathophysiology of Rheumatic Inflammation”, research groups concentrate on the identification and understanding of cells that cause and drive chronic rheumatic inflammation. These inflammatory conditions can affect all organs of the body, but it is unclear why one particular organ is affected and others are not. Therefore, we are investigating the cells that are the driving force of chronic inflammation. We now know that specific cells of the immune system play a decisive role: the lymphocytes. Lymphocytes protect us from pathogens and cancer. In patients with rheumatic inflammatory diseases, the precise distinction between “foreign” and “self” is impaired, and worse than this, the immune system actually memorizes the body’s structures as “an enemy” and develops an “immunological memory” against them. This memory for rheumatic inflammation is refractory to current therapies, and of course also to the body’s own immunoregulatory mechanisms that prevent immune reactions against healthy tissue. How these memory lymphocytes develop, how they are maintained in the long run, and why they are resistant to current treatments are questions being investigated in this programme area.“

  • Regenerative Rheumatology

Since 2015, the new programme area “Regenerative Rheumatology” complements the biomedical research focus of the DRFZ, initially with two research groups. They concentrate on the most common rheumatic disease, osteoarthritis, in which the cartilage tissue of the joints is damaged. While one group is looking for ways to control cartilage formation by chondrocytes in the joint, the other group is developing novel methods to therapeutically manipulate chondrocytes. Both working groups work closely together with the working groups of the programme area “Pathophysiology of Rheumatic Inflammation”. On the one hand, many patients with osteoarthritis have secondary inflammations that affect cartilage damage. On the other hand, methods for the regeneration of cartilage tissue and joints are also important in the treatment of primarily inflammatory rheumatic joint diseases.

  • Epidemiology and Health Services Research

The programme area “Epidemiology and Health Services Research” has the overarching task of investigating clinically important questions in rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases using epidemiological methods in order to improve the care and quality of life of people with rheumatic diseases.
The four working groups in this area focus on clinical epidemiology and health care research.
Central data collection focuses on which biological, clinical and environmental factors contribute to the occurrence and progression of diseases; how safe and effective new therapies are in the long run for children and adults; and what are the care needs and quality of care for people with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases.

Prof. Angela Zink:

Research is dependent on the data provided by rheumatologists; conversely, the epidemiological studies at the DRFZ make a contribution to improving medical care.

The programme area is in close contact with more than 500 rheumatological practices and clinics throughout Germany. Currently, nine different registries and cohort studies are being conducted, involving more than 50,000 patients. The cooperation is a win-win situation for both sides: Research depends on obtaining data on the clinical situation and disease experience of physicians and patients. The results of the epidemiological studies are reflected back into practice and support clinical decision making and health care planning.

DRFZ – Charité

The close connection to the Charité is an essential element of the DRFZ.
The Charité and the DRFZ not only share joint research infrastructures, they are also connected by seven professorships and twelve joint liaison research Groups.

Liaison-research groups

“Liaison research groups” are an instrument developed by the DRFZ that gives clinicians and basic researchers from partner institutions such as the Charité, the opportunity to conduct research at the DRFZ. The liaison research groups are co-financed to varying degrees by the partner institution and the DRFZ. This provides these groups with research space and access to the infrastructure and technology platforms of the DRFZ.

Since mid-2016, the joint Leibniz ScienceCampus Chronic Inflammation connects the DRFZ and the Charité. It is a new cornerstone of the interaction between Charité and DRFZ.
The Leibniz Association, the Charité and the DRFZ jointly finance the ScienceCampus. It is based on the scientific concept of comparing inflammatory rheumatic diseases and chronic inflammation of other organs, such as the nervous system, skin, kidneys and intestines; defining similarities and differences, and then transferring therapeutic concepts from one disease to another.Please find more here

Research funding

Research at the DRFZ is funded by the Berlin Senate Administration for Science and Research, the Leibniz Association, the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the European Research Council and the European Commission, industry consortia and other third-party donors.
Private foundations such as the Willy Robert Pitzer Foundation, the Rheumastiftung, the Dr. Rolf M. Schwiete Foundation and bequests are an increasingly important pillar of research funding at the DRFZ. Each of these foundations supports a particularly outstanding research group in an outstanding manner, thereby shaping the profile of the DRFZ.

The common aim of all DRFZ scientists is to carry out research which leads to a better understanding of rheumatic diseases, so that patients can be treated more specifically, resulting in a better quality of life.

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