German and Indian researchers unite to fight diseases

Joint health research: alliance wants to speed up the transfer of research findings to a medical application.


Deutsch-Indische Konsultationen

To enable research findings to be used for the treatment of patients more quickly: this is the main aim of an agreement which German and Indian scientists have now concluded in New Delhi. The Helmholtz Association and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) want to set up joint projects which combine basic and clinical research and thus advance the fight against infections and other diseases. The Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Professor Annette Schavan, Federal Minister for Education and Research, and the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, were present when representatives of both research organisations today signed the cooperation agreement. The meeting formed part of the German-Indian government consultations.


By putting their signatures to the document Professor Dirk Heinz, Scientific Director of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), and Professor Vishwa Mohan Katoch, Secretary of the Indian Ministry of Health, extended a collaboration whose foundation had been laid several years earlier with numerous joint projects.


Further research projects, exchange programmes and workshops will now enable a more intense and sustainable transfer of knowledge. “The joint research will concentrate on the development of new anti-infectives, vaccines and diagnostic methods,” explains Professor Heinz. The scientists want to undertake detailed investigations into streptococci infections and hepatitis C, among other things. The joint research will also focus on cancer and other serious illnesses in addition to its work on infections.


The partners have particularly high expectations of the expansion of the translational research: the translation, i.e. the rapid transfer of findings from basic research into hospitals, allows new discoveries to reach the application stage much faster. “In both Germany and India there is a great deal of interest in translational research,” says Professor Gursharan Singh Chhatwal from the HZI, who has co-organised many German-Indian cooperation projects in infection research. “The memorandum is intended to strengthen our joint translation endeavours.”

The foundation stone for joint German-Indian research was laid back in 1974 with a science and technology agreement between the two countries. In 2006, the HZI teamed up with the Medical University of Hanover (MHH) and the ICMR to found a virtual Centre for Infection Research. The cooperation agreement has been regularly expanded ever since.


The successes of the German-Indian research can be seen with streptococci infections, for example. These bacteria attack the skin, cause scarlet fever and tonsillitis. Every year, 900 million people worldwide are infected with the pathogens. 150 different streptococci strains are known - three percent of them can cause rheumatic fever, a serious heart disease in children.


In India, six million children suffer from this disease. The large numbers make comprehensive and controlled medical treatment impossible “The dangerous strains were previously unknown. We can now identify them and are just developing a test for them,” says Professor Gursharan Singh Chhatwal from the HZI. “This test narrows down the number of those concerned significantly. It is therefore possible to treat and monitor all of them with penicillin.”


The parties to the agreement will set out further details and the funding of the planned German-Indian projects this year, and the implementation will begin next year.


The Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research:
 Scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research investigate the mechanisms of infections and how they can be fought. Why do bacteria and viruses become pathogens: understanding this will provide the key for the development of new medicines and vaccines. The Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig is a research institution in the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres funded jointly by the Federal Republic of Germany and the Federal State of Lower Saxony. The Centre’s task is to undertake biomedical research in the field of infection biology and its clinical application and implementation in practice.


The Indian Council of Medical Research:
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) manages all the medical research in India. It is responsible for 27 institutes for health research with some 15,000 scientists overall. Apart from supervising the health systems the ICMR also awards research funds.


The Helmholtz Association:
The Helmholtz Association makes its contribution to solving major and urgent challenges faced by society, science and industry by undertaking top-flight scientific research in six research areas: energy, earth and environment, health, key technologies, structure of matter, aeronautics, space and transport. The Helmholtz Association is the largest science organisation in Germany with over 31,000 staff in 17 research centres and an annual budget of around EUR 3.3 billion. Its work follows the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).

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