Celebrating Responsibility: 40th Anniversary of the Helmut Horten Foundation

The two Helmut Horten Foundations in Switzerland and Austria have been advancing the cause of health care for forty years. This support has its origins in the years 1971/72 when Helmut Horten, the founder of Horten Aktiengesellschaft, set up his foundation which he endowed with substantial funds. From the outset, Helmut Horten planned for the long term with an eye for sustainability, turning his vision into reality with entrepreneurial expertise. His desire was to provide support for medical treatment and nursing, medical research as well as care for orphans and the elderly. Since his death in 1987, the foundations have been guided by his wife Heidi Horten.

In the many years since then, some 100 million Swiss francs have been donated for medical projects. The many and varied grants have helped fund universities, university clinics, hospitals and research institutes, primarily in Switzerland and Austria. The spectrum of medical research supported ranges from cardiology and cancer research, research into diabetes and infectious diseases, anaesthesia, leukaemia and brain research, work on Hepatitis B and malaria drugs to the prevention of mental illness and chronic heart failure in older patients. Last but not least, contributions have been made to enabling the use of technical equipment, such as setting up cardiac diagnostics laboratories, the purchase of X-ray and intensive care equipment, computer tomographs, digitalised ultrasound equipment, vehicles for the disabled and stair lifts in homes for the disabled. Over the decades, a dense network of projects has developed that has always clearly kept an eye on the intention of the founder.

In 1998 Mrs. Heidi Horten and her foundation boards decided to provide long-term extensive funding for two very promising projects. This decision was driven by a desire for innovation and sustainability, motives which are as relevant today as they were then. Thus in spring 2000, with significant support from the Horten Foundation, the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) in Bellinzona was founded. The emphasis of the institute’s work is upon advancing biomedical research with scientists focusing on the mechanisms of host defence against bacteria, viruses, tumours and neuro-degenerative diseases. A second key area is human immunology, a scientific field that investigates the mechanisms that kick in when higher organisms defend themselves against viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. Scientists also study the way in which foreign bodies such as implants or tumours are recognised. This basic work makes immunology important for all areas of medicine.

In the first ten years of its work, the IRB has been able to realise a host of new techniques and developments. These include the reconstruction of the human immune system in a model, the development of an efficient system for producing monoclonal antibodies or the development of an approach to reduce the protein deposits in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s disease. Since it was founded, the IRB has gained an international reputation and become part of a global collaborative network of leading research institutes. Further information is available at: http://www.irb.ch/home

The second major funding project is the Horten Centre for Patient-Oriented Research and Knowledge Transfer, which was founded in Zurich in 1999. This centre is part of the University of Zurich and for administrative purposes belongs to the Clinic and Polyclinic for Internal Medicine. Since 2000, the Horten Centre supported the systematic processing of the vast quantity of medical research results to make them available to physicians who can then use them to benefit their patients. Nowadays it is impossible for general practitioners to keep abreast of the abundance of medical publications. The staff at the Centre therefore identify relevant articles and studies, which are then summarised and published online. This service enables general practitioners to apply the latest medical knowledge in their practices.

The second major area of the Centre’s work is patient-oriented research with a focus on the quality of diagnostics. A study showed that many results of diagnostic research are inaccessible even to doctors and thus play almost no role in medical practice. Against this background, the Centre became a key driver behind the development of a method in which expert knowledge is analysed and processed for use by physicians. This tool can significantly increase the quality of diagnosis and can also be used in relation to questions of treatment. This system of medical experts is available to support physicians in their everyday work. The Horten Centre's research projects are supervised and audited by a board of internationally renowned experts. Further information is available at: http://www.evimed.ch/

The Helmut Horten Foundations can now look back on forty years of extensive medical research. The encouraging results are reason enough for Mrs. Heidi Horten, the Board of Directors and the Advisory Boards to continue devoting the same energy and resources to advancing the quality of medical care in the interests of patients in the decades to come. 

Prof. Dr. Thomas Druyen

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