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A profile of the Robert Koch Institute

The Robert Koch Institute is one of the central institutions for health protection in Germany. It serves the Federal Ministry of Health as a central scientific institution in the field of biomedicine. The Institute combines risk research with political advice. Its most important tasks include protection against infectious diseases and the analysis of the health situation in Germany.

The classical work area of the Robert Koch Institute is research into infectious diseases. Various teams use molecular biological methods to examine, for instance, the traits and transmission routes of specific bacteria, the HI virus or the BSE pathogen. Furthermore, on the basis of the new Protection against Infections Act - which strengthens the position of the Institute as a central institution in the health system - the incidence of numerous infectious diseases is recorded and evaluated nationwide.

Furthermore, the spread and trends of many non-infectious diseases are examined at the Robert Koch Institute and the data of the federal states on the frequency of cancer cases are also collected there.

Scientists conduct surveys in the population at large and analyse quality of life and health risks for people in Germany. These analyses are channelled into regular health reporting, which - besides research into infectious diseases - has become one of the trademarks of the Institute.

The Robert Koch Institute prepares recommendations for regional authorities and doctors - for instance what vaccinations should be given or how infections can be avoided in hospitals. It has a "rapid task force" in order to investigate regional outbreaks of epidemics. Furthermore, under its aegis epidemic alarm plans have been prepared for extraordinary situations - for instance the import of Ebola or Lassa viruses. For various bacteria and viral diseases there are National Reference Centres and advisory laboratories within the Robert Koch Institute which are the central contacts for the identification and control of disease. The Institute cooperates with various institutions in Germany and around the world, including the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Following September 11th, 2001 the Centre for Biological Safety was established at the Robert Koch Institute. Its main tasks are to facilitate measures required to respond to bioterroristic attacks. The centre handles the diagnostics of infectious agents, scenario modelling, the federal information centre for biological safety and the coordination of national and international programs for biological safety.

The RKI received further responsibility with the passing of the Stem Cell Law (Stammzellengesetz). This includes the execution of the authorisation procedures based on the Stem Cell Law as well as the maintenance of a register concerning the stem cell lines used and the research approved.

The Robert Koch Institute has its headquarters in Berlin and a further branch in Wernigerode in the Harz region. Of its 720 employees, around 250 are scientists. For its research projects it seeks third party funding. Specific scientific questions are tackled in project groups. There are special groups to promote the work of young research scientists. An internal research committee and an external advisory scientific council examine the quality of the work undertaken.

Date: 29.07.2008