Hermann von Helmholtz

The MDC as part of Helmholtz

Tackling science's great challenges together

The MDC is part of the largest national research community in Germany: the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres.

The mission of the Helmholtz Association’s members is to solve the “grand challenges facing society, science and industry.” For the MDC, as a Helmholtz Centre working in the field of health research, this mission translates primarily as: How will we best combat widespread chronic diseases in the future? This task brings the MDC into close strategic cooperation with the four other major institutions working in this field.

The Helmholtz Research Programs

Biomedical research within the Helmholtz Association is organized into research programs. Scientists from those Helmholtz Centers involved in the research field Health study causes and emergence of often complex diseases and on this basis develop new strategies for early detection, prevention, diagnosis and therapy.

Systems Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases: The research program at the MDC

Scientists at the MDC research the biological foundations of human beings in order to understand diseases even better and to prevent illnesses. They want to understand what controls or disturbs the natural balance in individual cells, in an organ or in the whole body. They analyze the human system; the biological basis of life from its most elementary building blocks to cross-organ mechanisms.

This knowledge offers the opportunity to effectively prevent diseases, to diagnose them on the basis of the first cell changes, and to stop the progression of diseases with tailored therapies before they can cause major damage to the body. This is what what our scientists want to achieve in the research program "Systems Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases".

NAKO – the German National Cohort

The German National Cohort (NAKO Gesundheitsstudie, or NAKO for short) is a joint interdisciplinary project being undertaken by the Helmholtz Health Centres. It involves the cooperation of university and non-university partners throughout Germany and a total of 200,000 study participants. Some 30,000 of these participants will undergo a one-hour MRI examination.

The MDC coordinates the study’s Berlin-Brandenburg Cluster, which comprises three study centers and 30,000 participants recruited from Berlin and the surrounding Brandenburg area. The MDC itself is studying 10,000 individuals and performing MRI examinations on 6,000 of these participants.

Overview of the Helmholtz Association

The Helmholtz Association is one of Germany’s four leading non-university research organizations, along with the Max Planck Society, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, and the Leibniz Association. Its namesake is the renowned German physician and physicist, Hermann von Helmholtz. Some 38,000 people are employed within the Helmholtz Association. The work carried out at the 18 autonomous Helmholtz Centers is organized into six research fields:

  • AeronauticsSpace and Transport
  • Earth and Environment
  • Energy
  • Matter
  • Key Technologies and
  • Health

The scientists working in the field of health research investigate the causes and development of widespread chronic diseases such as cancer; diseases of the cardiovascular system and the lungs; metabolic and infectious diseases; and disorders of the nervous system. This work involves numerous partnerships with universities, university hospitals, other research organizations, and industry.

Targeted funding for strategic research programs

How does the Helmholtz Association fund its research? Who determines the research topics and monitors research quality?

The members of the Helmholtz Association receive 90 percent of its roughly €4 billion base budget from the German federal government and ten percent from the state governments. Under the Pact for Research and Innovation, the federal and state governments of Germany have ensured planning dependability by promising a continuous increase in funding.

The research centers themselves receive a third of their budget from third-party funding sources, such as the German Research Foundation (DFG), the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the European Union, and various other foundations or private donations.

Their core budget, however, comes via the Helmholtz Association’s system of program-oriented funding (POF). All Helmholtz research is organized into research programs that are reviewed every five years by renowned independent experts.