Research on rheumatic diseases – several paths leading to one goal
Research for patients
Patients are the focus of our work – however, we do not provide treatment at the DRFZ
The Leibniz Institute German Rheumatism Research Center Berlin is a research centre and does not treat patients. The DRFZ is the only non-university research institution in Germany dedicated to investigate rheumatic diseases.
The biomedical researchers investigate human material like blood and tissue samples from patients and healthy controls. Furthermore, they use animal models of different diseases. The epidemiologists run large longitudinal cohort studies.
Patients benefit from this research – maybe not today but tomorrow. The various cooperations of the DRFZ, also with clinics, and advisory activities help to improve diagnosis and treatment. New research approaches lead to completely new therapies – for a future in which rheumatic diseases are no longer chronic diseases.
Our mission: curing rheumatic diseases
The cause of all forms of chronic inflammatory rheumatic diseases is a malfunction of the body’s own defence system. Instead of protecting, the immune system suddenly turns against its own body. A permanent battle begins and the body’s own tissue, such as joint cartilage, is irreversibly destroyed. This is why rheumatic diseases belong to the autoimmune diseases.
For three decades, researchers at the DRFZ are focusing on understanding the causes and course of rheumatic inflammations. The aim is a targeted intervention to interrupt the inflammation and to finally stop the body’s permanent fight against itself.
Translational research on the Charité Campus Berlin Mitte
For the analysis of individual immune cells, the DRFZ operates state-of-the-art technology platforms for cell biology, genetics, microscopy and cell sorting in cooperation with the Charité and the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology. However, the cooperation with the Charité goes far beyond the joint use of laboratories: the so-called liaison research groups at the DRFZ are headed by senior physicians from the Charité, research projects are carried out across groups and regularly discussed in numerous scientific “discussion clubs”.
Epidemiology and basic biomedical research
The program area Epidemiology and Health Services Research at the DRZF monitors tens of thousands of patients in various long-term studies and in cooperation with over 500 rheumatologists from all over Germany. The aim is to improve the quality of life of children and adults with rheumatic diseases and to make therapies safer.
The biomedical research at the DRFZ focusses on rheumatic diseases at the level of individual immune cells. Basic scientists and physicians work interdiciplinary and in national and international networks. Using state-of-the-art and unique technologies, some of which they have developed themselves, they investigate the difference between protective and harmful immune reactions – in other words, the basis of autoimmunity. The aim is to develop new therapies, adapted to the individual patient and as safe and efficacious as possible and, ideally, curative.
Osteoarthritis – a new research field
Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease worldwide. In Germany, it is the most common cause of disability in the elderly. The chronic degenerative disease leads to progressive cartilage loss and is often accompanied by inflammation. To date, there is no therapy stopping the progression or even leading to regeneration of the joints.
Although osteoarthritis is very common, surprisingly little research is being done. Answers to fundamental questions are lacking: the details on how the disease develops are still unknown.
Current findings about molecular changes in the cartilage-forming cells, the chondrocytes, are promising. A team at the DRFZ, in the Pitzer Laboratory for Osteoarthritis Research, wants to reprogramme chondrocytes to restore their normal function and to ensure mobile pain-free joints.