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The Robert Koch Institute: one of the world’s oldest biomedical institutes

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First headquarters of the Royal Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases in Schumannstraße in Berlin-Mitte, end of the 19th century. Source:  RKI First headquarters of the Royal Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases in Schumannstraße in Berlin-Mitte, end of the 19th century. Source: RKI

The Robert Koch Institute focuses its attention on public health and is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the world. Research is the very core of its work, which enables it to classify health risks reliably and issue recommendations to improve the health of the population. During the founding years from 1891 to 1904, the institute was headed by Robert Koch, the doctor and researcher who, as a result of his research into anthrax, was the first to determine the connection between an infectious agent and a disease. He later discovered the tuberculosis pathogen for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1905.

1891On 1 July, the “Royal Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases” takes up its work – in a converted residential building in Schumannstraße in Berlin-Mitte. Robert Koch heads the institute until 1904.
1900Relocation to a new building on the Nordufer in Berlin-Wedding, still RKI headquarters to this day.
1905Robert Koch is awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
1910Robert Koch dies and is laid to rest in a mausoleum at the institute.
1912On the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the tuberculosis bacterium the institute is re-named “Royal Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases, ‘Robert Koch’”.
1933After the National Socialist takeover, Jewish scientists are forced to leave the institute. During the Third Reich, RKI is heavily involved in National Socialist strong-arm tactics. Leading scientists play a role, amongst others, in human experimentation in sanatoria and concentration camps.
1942The institute becomes an independent Reich institute called the Robert Koch Institute. It now focuses on research into infectious diseases that threaten military striking power.
1945Parts of the institute have been destroyed during the war. With the help of the Allies, work is resumed.
1952RKI becomes part of the newly-founded Federal Health Office. The building on the Nordufer is extended, laboratories and stables are modernised.
1960The institute starts producing the only yellow fever vaccine licensed by the WHO in Germany. Production continues until 2002.
1978A new laboratory building is inaugurated on the Nordufer, one of the most modern in Europe.
1982When the first cases of AIDS occur in Germany RKI establishes an AIDS register.
1990After German reunification, various GDR authorities are integrated in RKI, including part of the Central Institute for Hygiene, Microbiology and Epidemiology in Berlin-Schöneweide and the Institute for Experimental Epidemiology in Wernigerode in the Harz region. The Wernigerode site is still a branch of RKI.
1994The Federal Health Office is dissolved. RKI merges with the AIDS Centre, which had been founded in 1988, and the Institute for Social Medicine and Epidemiology (SozEp) in Berlin-Tempelhof – the latter specialising in non-communicable diseases.
1998RKI conducts its first comprehensive study on the state of health and health behaviour of adults in Germany.
2001The Infection Protection Act (Infektionsschutzgesetz, IfSG) enters into force. The registering and control of infectious diseases are fundamentally modernised, RKI’s responsibilities are extended.
2001RKI becomes the central point in Germany for recognising and addressing bioterrorist risk situations.
2002The institute acquires an additional site in Berlin-Wedding: Seestrasse.
2003RKI introduces the KiGGS Study: for the first time, comprehensive data on the health situation of children and young people are collected nationwide.
2006Together with the Federal Statistical Office, RKI is tasked with health reporting for Germany.
2007RKI is officially charged with health monitoring. The institute thus continuously collects data on disease incidence and risk behaviour amongst all age groups of the population in Germany.
2008The Bundestag decides to develop RKI into a modern public health institute (‘RKI 2010’). Staffing numbers are increased.
2014In West Africa, 50 members of RKI’s staff help to contain the largest Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in history.
2015A new office and laboratory building is inaugurated at the Seestrasse site, including a laboratory with the highest safety level (BSL4).
2016The institute celebrates its 125th anniversary. More than 1,100 people with 90 different occupations are employed at the four sites in Berlin and Wernigerode, including 450 scientists.
2017The strategy ‘RKI 2025’ envisages extending digital epidemiology, connecting public health stakeholders and taking on greater responsibility at international level.

Date: 03.12.2018