German-Turkish innovation network for population-related health research gets under way

Supported by the ideas competition, German and Turkish health research experts met in the Hanseatic city of Greifswald from 12 to 14 January 2015. Their mission: to form an innovative network for the cooperative expansion of population-related health research both nationally and internationally.

Epidemiological health studies are an integral part of medical research: they describe the origins, spread, treatment and consequences of disease and analyse the connections between these factors. The more extensive the studies, and the greater the number of innovative technologies incorporated, the greater the benefit to the patient.

Bringing research and technology together is also the goal of the ideas competition project "Population-based health research in Germany and Turkey to promote innovative science, health policy and health economics". The Institute for Community Medicine at Greifswald University Hospital is responsible for the scientific management of the project in Germany; the corresponding organisation in Turkey is the Department for Public Health at Dokuz Eylül University in Izmir. "Our aim is to develop an innovation network incorporating German and Turkish partners in the fields of science, business and politics for the cooperative expansion of population-related health research both nationally and internationally," explains project leader PD Dr. Carsten Schmidt from Greifswald University Hospital.

Fostering scientific and technological potential

"We have outstanding scientific and technological potential at the locations and institutions involved," emphasises Schmidt. The Study of Health in Pomerania (SHIP), for example, performed at Greifswald University Hospital, is a prime example of population-related epidemiological research. There are several reasons for this: SHIP includes not only individual diseases or disease groups but covers all common population-related diseases in all their complexity. This means that social and work conditions, behaviour that affects people's health and a wide range of mental and physical functional disorders and diseases flow into the population study, which is designed to last for many years and is being sponsored by organisations including the BMBF. Moreover, the study is employing innovative investigation methods, e.g. the first-time use of whole-body magnet resonance imagining (MRI) to gain the latest insights into the body from head to foot in the truest sense of the word. The Turkish project partner is the Dokuz-Eylül University in Izmir, one of the country's largest and most renowned universities with around 68,000 students. It too can look back on a history of successful population-based research. Both partners and their networks entered into dialogue relating to the current standing of their research and the possibilities of cooperation during interdisciplinary workshops held from 12 to 14 January 2015 in the Hanseatic city of Greifswald.

Bilateral workshops on the perspectives and status quo of health research

The event was attended by a Turkish delegation of scientists and entrepreneurs led by Prof. Murat Özgören, Vice-Rector of Dokuz Eylül University in Izmir and president of the life science network Depark. After being welcomed by the mayor of the Hanseatic city of Greifswald, Dr. Arthur König, a preliminary workshop was held on 12 January 2015 in cooperation with BioCon Valley®. Under the motto "From Lab Bench to Bed Side: Turkish-German Perspectives to Accelerate Commercialization of Medical Innovations in the Industrial Health Economy", the research institutions and companies active in the health industry in Germany and Turkey used the opportunity to introduce themselves and make contacts. In the evening, students and doctoral candidates in medicine had the chance to find out about study and research opportunities and existing exchange programmes organised by both universities; the cooperation between the universities is to be extended. The official opening workshop "From community to the individual - Turkish-German perspectives for innovative health science, health policy and health economics” (see programme) followed next day. This interdisciplinary workshop was attended by representatives of BioConValley®, Fraunhofer Life Sciences, ScanBalt, the Institute for Work and Technology, Depark/Bioizmir, the Turkish Public Health Institute, the universities involved and other institutions with the aim of discussing perspectives for innovative, population-related health research on various levels. 

Concrete partnership intentions

"The opening workshops were very positive. We succeeded in bringing business network partners and representatives from the fields of science, research and politics together around one table. We found strong points of contact in many areas, for example health research, functional genomics and even sleep research," emphasises Schmidt. The partners want to drive on with joint health research in the general adult population, building on the SHIP study and the Balcova Heart Study that focuses on cardiovascular diseases and is led by Prof. Belgin Ünal and Prof. Gül Ergör. The use of life science networks is also planned in order to safeguard the high potential for technological innovation in health research, particularly in the field of functional genomics, a discipline that aims to clarify the function of all the genes in an organism as far as possible. "The partner International Biomedicine and Genome Center Izmir (iBG-izmir)," says Vice-Rector Prof. Murat Özgören, "is the largest life science hub between Germany and India whose potential is to be integrated into the project." The German partner will be the Inter-Faculty Centre for Functional Genome Research, an internationally acclaimed organisation based in Greifswald. Companies in both countries have been invited to cooperate, in Izmir via the technology incubator Depark, the only one of its kind in Turkey, and in Germany via BioCon Valley® (see Press release from Greifswald University).

The institutions and network partners involved will have the opportunity to deepen their partnerships very soon: a return visit to Turkey is scheduled for summer 2015.

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