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Current research

Research is now being carried out in the following main areas:

  • diseases of genetic origin
  • chronic and degenerative diseases
  • cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes
  • infectious diseases and multidrug resistance
  • applying new knowledge of the function of genomes in both humans and certain pathogenic organisms, e.g. by genetic programming of human cells to combat cancer and viral infections
  • earlier, improved, non-invasive diagnostics
  • new vaccines, e.g. for AIDS
  • new gene- and cell-based therapies
  • new biological sources of medicines
  • new quality and safety controls for drugs, including alternatives to animal experimentation

Prevention/early diagnosis

It is always better to prevent the onset of illness. A cleaner environment, better eating habits, healthy lifestyles and the early diagnosis of common diseases will all reduce healthcare costs and lead to a better quality of life.

New prophylactic vaccines are being developed, especially for infectious diseases, such as AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis and malaria (see the leaflet “Communicable diseases: a global emergency”), and for allergies, too.

A better understanding of the impact of the environment on health is needed, and of the diet-related risk factors that contribute to chronic disease. More sensitive tests to detect toxic contaminants, such as BSE, will lead to safer food.

The number of people over 65 in Europe is forecast to double by 2025. Age-related diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and cancer are all likely to increase dramatically.

Around 5% of all Europeans over 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s disease alone. New methods are currently being investigated to prevent or delay neuronal death, which is what happens in neurodegenerative diseases such as stroke, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Similarly, investigation into the genetic factors predisposing to rheumatoid arthritis should allow a breakthrough in the understanding of the mechanisms behind this crippling disease, leading to better treatments.

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Air pollution: a European study (APHEA)

The APHEA project involved the study of the short-term effects of urban air pollution in 15 European cities. The results, based on statistics regarding pollution levels, showed that pollutants had a real effect on deaths due to cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

 

A possible new vaccine for malaria

Up to 500 million people a year are affected by malaria – and the numbers are increasing. Treatment is also becoming more difficult. In one project, a promising new antimalarial vaccine has been evaluated under ‘real life’ conditions in West Africa.

A field worker examines microscope slides for malarial parasites. image A field worker examines microscope
slides for malarial parasites.

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New medicine