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United against infections

The corona pandemic has made it clear how important infection research is. However, the emergence and spread of unknown viruses such as, most recently, SARS-CoV-2 is not new. Since the foundation of the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) in 2012, its researchers have been placing a clear focus on this issue with the “Emerging Infections“ research area.

Other problems in infection research also require decisive action: Chronic infections, growing numbers of immunocompromised patients in an increasingly elderly society, the global spread of antibiotic resistance along with the emerging viruses are among the major challenges in infectiology of our time. Our infection research activities are strategically focused on meeting these challenges.

To this end, we at the DZIF have pooled the expertise of over 650 researchers from 35 member institutions and from a wide range of fields—including medicine, biology, epidemiology, chemistry and bioinformatics.

Grand challenges

In nine research areas and four overarching infrastructures, we are addressing four grand infectious disease challenges of our time:

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  • Chronic infections such as HIV, hepatitis or tuberculosis.
  • Antimicrobial resistance: many pathogens no longer respond to common antibiotics.
  • Tropical and emerging infections such as malaria, Ebola or COVID-19.
  • Immune prevention and therapy: Immunocompromised people are particularly at risk of infections

Research areas—focusing on the major common diseases

The DZIF bundles projects in nine research areas, each dedicated to a pathogen, a specific disease or a common topic within infection research. Alongside "Emerging Infections", "Healthcare-associated and Antibiotic-resistant bacterial Infections”, "Novel Antibiotics", "HIV", "Hepatitis", "Tuberculosis" and "Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases" are the focus of research—as are "Gastrointestinal Infections" and "Infections of the immunocompromised Host".

Bridging topics

Important current and cross-research area developments are addressed and coordinated at the DZIF as "bridging topics" by a panel of experts on an interdisciplinary basis. Three groups on the following topics have been established so far:

Infrastructures—joint service facilities and DZIF Academy

The infrastructures offer the DZIF scientists support in their research. The development of a new drug raises many questions that even researchers cannot answer easily. This is where the "Product Development Unit" offers advice and support. The "Clinical Trial Unit" coordinate trials once an active substance has cleared the first hurdles. The DZIF infrastructure “Bioresources, Biodata and Digital Health”, for example, provides researchers with tissue and cell samples.

The DZIF Academy—supporting and promoting young talent
Since our foundation, we have been working to ensure that young researchers and doctors can successfully embark on a career in infection research. The DZIF Academy was established with this in mind. The Academy awards scholarships to young parents and doctors, which allow them to who leave clinical practice and enter research instead.

Globalisation—thinking and acting without borders

SARS-CoV-2 has been a vivid reminder that infections do not respect borders. Infection researchers must think and act internationally. This is precisely what we at the DZIF have been doing from the outset: Our researchers are working closely with partner institutions in Africa and Europe. The DZIF is also committed to the vaccine initiative CEPI and is one of ten partners in the CARB-X Global Accelerator network. CARB-X accelerates projects worldwide to develop new drugs in the fight against antibiotic-resistant germs.

The foundation was initiated by the Ministry of Research

In 2012, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) took the initiative to found the DZIF. In total, the centre is comprised of 35 university and non-university member institutions in seven locations. 90 % of the DZIF projects and programmes are paid for through federal funding, and 10 % through the participating states. In addition to the DZIF there are seven other German Centers for Health Research, to combat widespread diseases.