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The Robert Koch Institute in profile

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) is one of the most important bodies for the safeguarding of public health in Germany. As leading institution of the government in the field of biomedicine it plays a major role in the prevention and combating of infectious diseases as well as in the analysis of long-term public health trends in the German health system.

Research and prevention of infections is a classic field of work for the RKI. For example, its scientists conduct research into the molecular properties and transmission modes of all groups of pathogens, including not only bacteria and viruses but also fungi, parasites and prions like the BSE pathogen. In addition, the RKI according to the infection protection act records and analyses data on the occurrence of numerous infectious diseases throughout Germany.

The RKI also analyses the distribution and trends in non-communicable diseases and combines the data of the federal states on the frequency of cancer. RKI researchers conduct regular monitoring surveys on quality of life, life style and health risks of children and adults in Germany. These analyses are merged into a system of continuous health reporting that sets standards internationally – in addition to the research on infectious diseases, this has become a trademark of the institute.

Characteristic for the RKI is its advisory role towards the federal government, state and local health authorities and medical specialists. For example, the institute develops recommendations for the vaccination of children and hygiene measures in hospitals. The RKI provides expert teams to help in investigations of regional epidemic outbreaks and collaborates with other authorities and experts to draw up epidemic emergency plans for extraordinary scenarios such as a worldwide influenza pandemic. National reference centres and consultant laboratories for various bacterial and viral diseases are also located at the RKI. They serve as central contact points for the identification and of the protection against the diseases. The RKI also functions as an important interface in numerous international co-operative projects.

Since 2002 the prevention of bioterrorism has become a new and major task of the institute. The Centre for Biological Threats and Special Pathogens was newly established. It develops special rapid tests for pathogens with a relevance to bioterrorism and draws up scenarios for defence against attacks with such agents. At the same time it also serves as national and international point of information and contact and handles queries from the public and medical specialists.

Since 2002 the RKI has also acted as approval authority for the import and use of human embryonic stem cells. The RKI is also in charge of the office of the interdisciplinary and independent Commission on Genetic Testing, which is responsible for the drafting and issue of directives stipulated in § 23 of the Genetic Diagnosis Act. The Commission was established in 2010 by the Genetic Diagnosis Act. It consists of 18 members who are appointed by the Federal Ministry of Health for a three year period.

The RKI has its headquarters and two additional locations in Berlin as well as a branch in Wernigerode in the Harz region. Its staff of around 1,050 includes approximately 450 scientists, including Ph.D. students and trainees. The Robert Koch Institute regularly seeks third-party funding for its research projects. Specific scientific issues are investigated in project groups. Young researchers have the opportunity to raise their profile in the scope of junior research groups. An internal institutional research board and an external scientific advisory council continuously monitor the quality of the scientific work.

Date: 10.09.2015