The Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research (HIH) in Tübingen is Germany’s biggest, cutting-edge centre for research into neurological diseases. The HIH is an exemplary research centre that combines public resources and private funding. It was founded in 2001 by the Hertie Foundation and the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen and opened in 2004. The institute’s primary role is to contribute to better understanding of brain function disorders and to develop new treatment strategies.
The HIH works in one of today’s most fascinating research fields: mapping the human brain. The central question is how certain diseases affect the brain’s functions. Key areas of research include:
- Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease,
- Neurocognitive disorders, such as those resulting from strokes,
- Disease mechanisms in autoimmune diseases of the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis, and
- Neuro-oncology – types of cancer affecting the nervous system.
Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research
The HIH and the Clinic of Neurology at University Hospital Tübingen run the Center for Neurology. Four HIH departments are involved in patient care at the centre. This close collaboration is designed to increase the efficiency of the transfer process from research findings to implementation in diagnostics and patient treatments.
The partnership with the Clinic of Neurology enables the Hertie Institute to be involved in the hospital, gives it access to patients and ensures a close link between research and patient care. The Center for Neurology is an institution that practises clinical brain research and offers medical treatment and training of the highest international standards.
The HIH consists of five departments:
1. Neurology and Stroke
Head of Department: Prof. Ulf Ziemann
The Neurology and Stroke Department covers the entire spectrum of neurological disorders not researched in the other departments. The focus is on research into, and treatment of, strokes, brain tumours and disorders of the immune system, e.g. multiple sclerosis.
2. Cognitive Neurology
Head of Department: Prof. Hans-Peter Thier
The Cognitive Neurology Department studies the higher functions of the human brain and their disruption as a result of diseases of the central nervous system. The department is particularly interested in understanding spatial awareness and spatial orientation and how these are modulated by attention, as well as sensorimotor integration mechanisms and the neuronal foundations of motor learning.
3. Neurodegenerative Diseases
Head of Department: Prof. Thomas Gasser
The Department of Neurodegenerative Diseases researches the genetic factors that are important for the emergence of genetic neurodegenerative diseases and movement disorders. Key research areas are Parkinson’s disease and dystonia and ataxia disorders in which progressive loss of nerve cells causes the brain’s control functions to weaken or fail altogether.
4. Cellular Neurology
Head of Department: Prof. Mathias Jucker
The Department of Cellular Neurology studies the development of Alzheimer’s disease, the most frequent type of dementia. It investigates which cellular and molecular mechanisms are responsible for the brain developing dementia. The aim of the department’s research work is to help pave the way for treatments that target the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.
5. Neurology and Epileptology
Head of Department: Prof. Holger Lerche
The Neurology and Epileptology Department studies the genetic causes and disease mechanisms of epilepsy and other paroxysmal neurological disorders. The research spectrum ranges from fundamental molecular research and applied clinical research to diagnostics and treatment.
The HIH model for structuring modern university institutes
The HIH sees itself as a model for reforming university institutes. The five heads of department form the Board of Directors of the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research. The Chairman of the Board of Directors represents the Hertie Institute to the outside world and is responsible for coordinating patient care, but otherwise makes decisions only in the event of a tied vote. This does away with the classic structure involving professors and replaces it with a department model – a collaborative, collective leadership model. It is the first time such a model has been realised on this scale in a clinical centre in Germany.
The reformed department structure also has an impact on the administration of funds: every year, the five departments contribute to a general funding pool of at least 1 million euros, which is administered collectively and used to initiate HIH research projects that all board members consider to be worth funding. The system is designed to eliminate budget egotism and increase the flexibility and speed with which particularly promising research projects are implemented.
The HIH also follows a Tenure Track Model developed by the Hertie Institute: it sets up junior research groups, which are evaluated at regular intervals. The groups can be extended or disbanded in a flexible manner, and their leaders have the opportunity to be promoted to lifetime professorships at the Hertie Institute if they demonstrate outstanding performance.
The idea is that performance should pay off for individuals as well. For this reason, in 2007 HIH developed and implemented a performance-based salary bonus model that rewards individuals for achievements in research and fundraising.