• Research

A Matter of the Heart: Research at the DZHK

To achieve further breakthroughs in cardiovascular research, DZHK researchers throughout Germany are pooling their expertise. They have already agreed on common research priorities and a joint strategy.

Research Priorities – Curbing the Cardiovascular Disease Epidemic

DZHK researchers want to prevent myocardial infarctions in the future. The plaques which form in the vascular walls of the coronary arteries are the key to achieving this goal. When these plaques break off, blood platelets attach causing the vessels to become blocked. If these two processes could be stopped, myocardial infarction would not occur in the first place.

Myocardial infarction - once survived - frequently leads to a weakening of the heart muscle. Doctors today are able to halt its progress, but they still cannot make a weak heart strong again. DZHK researchers are therefore seeking out ways to regenerate the heart, for instance by replacing diseased heart tissue with heart cells grown in the laboratory.

Congenital heart defects and heart failure are the most common causes of sudden cardiac death. The underlying processes can vary greatly. DZHK researchers want to find out how in detail this tragic phenomenon comes about, who is especially at risk and how sudden cardiac death can be prevented.

Heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) can impair patients’ quality of life significantly and, in the case of atrial fibrillation, may even prove fatal when blood clots in the atrium lead to stroke. DZHK researchers wish to improve diagnostics and are seeking new treatment options for patients who don’t respond to standard interventional procedures.

Furthermore, the DZHK aims to explore how people can protect themselves against cardiovascular diseases and prevent any further deterioration of existing conditions. DHZK researchers - including psychologists, sports scientists and nutrition experts - are planning to carry out extensive joint studies on the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

Here you find more about the research subjects of the DZHK partner sites.

Research Strategy – Focus on Translation

In the basic research laboratories of the DHZK researchers are making important discoveries about what goes on at molecular level during the development of cardiovascular diseases: How do cells and tissues react, which messenger substances are involved in the disease process, which genes are modified, and how are they transcribed?

The process of developing a treatment from these findings is known as “translation” and it encompasses many additional research steps. These are frequently very time-consuming and costly, and also the novelty of the scientific content is no longer quite so great. Nevertheless, these steps are crucial and without them there would be no new treatments.

The DZHK has therefore agreed a joint research strategy which focuses on selected stages of the translational research process that are particularly challenging and so far have been undertaken only sparingly:

Late preclinical studies

Clinically relevant target validation is the basis for the first clinical studies in humans. This area includes:

  • the establishment of clinically relevant animal models of cardiovascular diseases and the testing of new therapeutic methods in such models
  • testing in human cell models
  • large-scale production of therapeutic drugs, such as viral vectors, microRNAs or stem cells

Early clinical studies

This area includes:

  • first-in-patient studies
  • early clinical studies, which may include investigation of pharmacogenetics and biomarkers
  • imaging studies

Guideline relevant studies

These are studies that lead to a change of practical treatment recommendations. Examples are the comparison of existing therapeutic procedures and the testing of known drugs for new indications (repurposing studies), and the comparison of pacemaker and cardiac support systems and other new treatment methods.