Corona research at full speed at the HZI
New projects and funding to combat the coronavirus pandemic
Currently, neither a vaccine nor specific drugs are available against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. In view of the global pandemic, the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig with its other locations is bundling its resources for projects that contribute to a better understanding of the infection and to solutions to contain the virus. „Like all infectious diseases, the current coronavirus pandemic can be combated more effectively the better we understand the pathogen and its effects on humans,“ says Prof Dirk Heinz, Scientific Director of the HZI. „The HZI is very well prepared for such outbreaks and can quickly adapt its scientific activities to such sudden challenges.“
In addition to the many years of expertise of its scientists in infection research, the HZI has the necessary powerful infrastructure at hand. Examples are the high-throughput testing of potential active substances, laboratories of biological safety level 3, in which it is possible to carry out investigations with intact pathogens, as well as a modern animal facility, which also enables investigations in animal models, especially in mice. „We have now been able to strategically align these units very quickly to SARS-CoV-2 research and the identification of potential active substances,“ said Heinz.
Like other research institutions, the HZI has been working under reduced conditions in basic operation with home office solutions for science and administration since 20 March 2020, in order to impede the spread of the virus and thus protect employees. Excluded from this regulation are all activities and technology platforms contributing to the fight against Covid-19.
Research at the HZI is currently pursuing a number of different approaches. Epidemiologists at the HZI are developing digital tools specifically targeted at Covid-19, most notably the outbreak and surveillance tool „SORMAS“ for disease control and risk assessment. This system, which has been developed over the past five years for endemic areas such as Africa, also includes contact tracing of infected persons. In close cooperation with the Robert Koch Institute, it can now provide support to German health authorities at short notice. A further app-based software development (PIA) from the HZI is currently being introduced in order to record regular self-reports on the health status of important contact persons, such as hospital staff, using mobile phones.
In order to initiate the important antibody detection of already recovered Covid-19 patients, tests for epidemiological studies are currently being developed at the HZI. These tests will allow better tracking of the viral disease and the detection of protective antibodies and thus the possible acquired immunity against the new coronavirus. Among other things, they will help to determine the actual extent of the infection and identify persons for whom restrictions on activities or travel could be relaxed due to their immunity.
In parallel to the development of improved antibody detection, the HZI is conducting large-scale tests using already available diagnostic procedures in several cities in Germany at different points in time. Here, the objective is to determine the proportion of people who have already developed immunity and the mortality rate among those infected. At the same time, these data are very important for estimating the further epidemiological development of the pandemic.
In addition, researchers at all HZI locations are concentrating on the development of active substances and vaccines against the virus and on deciphering the molecular mechanisms of disease development and progression.
To combat the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission has announced calls for research and innovation projects. In total, around 260 million euros have been made available for Covid-19 research until 16 March 2020.To this end, the researchers are to work on monitoring, test procedures, treatment methods and vaccine development. The HZI now coordinates the EU project CORESMA („Covid-19 Outbreak Response combining E-health, Serolomics, Modelling, Artificial Intelligence and Implementation Research“) and is involved in the SCORE project (Antiviral Drugs against SARS-CoV-2).
Please find the complete press release and a list of the HZI projects currently underway to research the novel coronavirus here: https://www.helmholtz-hzi.de/en/news-events/news/view/article/complete/corona-forschung-auf-hochtouren-am-hzi/
The Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research:
Scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) investigate the mechanisms of infections and of the defences against infections. What is it that makes bacteria or viruses pathogenic? The answer to this question is expected to be key to the development of new medications and vaccines. The HZI is a member of the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF). www.helmholtz-hzi.de/en
Susanne Thiele, Press Officer
Dr Andreas Fischer, Editor
Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research
Press and Communications