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Methuselah’s Descendants – What Keeps Us Healthy in Old Age?

The New Director of Population Health Sciences at the DZNE Investigates

Our life expectancy has increased considerably in recent centuries. However, which factors play a role in giving us longer mental and physical health? Professor Monique Breteler, new Director of Population Health Sciences at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), will undertake a large-scale study to answer this very question. Besides her affiliation with DZNE, Breteler is a professor of population health sciences at the University of Bonn.

“We are proud that Professor Breteler, one of the world’s leading scientists in the field of population studies, has joined the institute,” says Professor Pierluigi Nicotera, scientific director and chairman of the executive board of DZNE.

“We want to help people stay healthy. Our study aims to identify the determinants of good health,” explains Breteler. For this purpose, Breteler’s team will accompany both young people and seniors over an extended period in order to determine the differences in lifestyle, physical fitness or genetic predisposition that lead some people to keep their health and others to lose it. Although many diseases manifest only in old age, causes can be traced back to a much earlier phase of life. Especially in the case of neurodegenerative diseases, first alterations in the brain seem to occur much earlier than previously thought, long before symptoms appear.

“Our main objective is to investigate the causes of disease at a very early stage. This is the only way to prevent disease,” says Breteler. “We also hope to find ways to delay or prevent disease onset and to improve early diagnosis so that treatment can be initiated as early as possible. We still have no cure for neurodegenerative diseases.”

The study’s approach is unique. Professor Breteler focuses on prevention and early diagnosis of diseases in much earlier stages of life than previously studied. It is taking advantage of the newest methods and highly advanced technologies such as 3- and 7-Tesla magnetic resonance imaging, which is being used to a much greater extent than in previous studies. Also impressive is the study’s sheer scope. “We are depending on the support of about 30,000 volunteers aged 30 to 80 from the Rhineland, making a major contribution to an important societal challenge”, Monique Breteler explains.

In the scientific community Breteler is especially well known for her achievements in the Rotterdam Study, where she found a correlation between vascular diseases and neurological disorders of the brain. Since 1990, more than 15,000 volunteers have contributed to this result. “This finding has greatly influenced basic and clinical research,” notes Breteler. “It is particularly important to me that these areas of research, as well as population studies, all take place at DZNE under one roof, thus providing an ideal work environment.”

Monique Breteler studied both medicine and epidemiology. She received her MD in 1987 from the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands and her Ph.D. in epidemiology in 1993 from the University Rotterdam. In 1995 she became head of Neuroepidemiology in the Department of Epidemiology at Erasmus Medical Center at the University of Rotterdam, and since 2002 she also holds an adjunct professorship at Harvard School of Public Health.

Prof. Dr. Monique Breteler
Director for Population Health Sciences
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
Holbeinstr. 13-15
53175 Bonn
Tel: +49 (0) 228/43302-281
Email: monique.breteler(at)
Sonja Jülich-Abbas
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
Holbeinstr. 13-15
53175 Bonn
Tel: +49 (0) 228/43302-260
Email: sonja.juelich-abbas(at)

Daniel Bayer | idw
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