Uni-Tübingen

Coronavirus research at the University of Tübingen

There are a number of projects at University of Tübingen which focus on the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the infection it causes, COVID-19. Yet other research projects are looking at the economic and social effects of the Coronavirus crisis.

This page is subject to changes.

Research projects in Medicine

23.11.2021 (Update): Tübingen developed vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 shows strong immune response

Results of the Phase I trial published in Nature

In November 2020 clinical testing of a vaccine developed at the Tübingen University Hospitals (CoVac-1) for use against SARS-CoV-2 began under the direction of Prof. Dr. Juliane Walz in the KKE Translational Immunology section of the Medical Clinic (Medical Director Prof. Dr. Helmut Salih). Now the results of the Phase I trial are available and demonstrate a potent activation of the T-cell response against the coronavirus. The results have been published in the renowned journal Nature. The study is currently in the second phase. The aim is to induce a broad and strong T-cell mediated immune response against SARS-CoV-2 in patients with antibody deficiency in order to prevent severe covid-19 disease.

T-cells play a significant role in Covid 19 disease. This has been demonstrated by the research team led by Prof. Walz, head of the clinical study, in several scientific publications. In the course of this research, specific peptides - that are important for recognition and long-term protection by T cells, especially in the case of the SARS-CoV-2 virus - were identified in the blood of individuals who had survived Covid 19. "The very peptides that play a significant role in long-term immunity after a patient has had a SARS-CoV-2 infection are now used in our CoVac-1 vaccine," explains Juliane Walz. Peptides are short proteins that are presented to the immune system, and specifically to T-cells, on the surface of tumor cells, but also on virus-infected cells. This enables the immune system to recognize "foreign" and infected cells and to eliminate them. The idea for the vaccine comes from cancer immunotherapy, one of the core research areas of the Tübingen immunologists. 

Results of the Phase I trial

CoVac-1 was used in a Phase I clinical trial in healthy volunteers between 18 and 80 years of age. Here, an extremely potent activation of the T-cell response against SARS-CoV-2 was demonstrated with good tolerability. 

A total of 36 subjects were vaccinated once during the study. Mild side effects such as headache and fatigue were observed in a few participants; serious side effects did not occur. Local induration developed at the vaccination site in all subjects. "This local reaction is expected and desired for our vaccine. It is an expression of the formation of a depot at the vaccination site, which prevents rapid degradation of the vaccine and thus enables a long-lasting immune response," explains Dr. Jonas Heitmann, one of the first authors of the study.  

All study participants had the desired broad and strong T-cell immune response against SARS-CoV-2 four weeks after vaccination. In initial follow-up studies, these immune responses remained unchanged in strength. Moreover, the T-cell responses activated by CoVac-1 are significantly more pronounced than those seen in recovered individuals after natural infection and are also more potent than T-cell immunity generated by approved mRNA or vector vaccines. Unlike previously approved vaccines, CoVac-1-induced T-cell immunity is directed not only against the spike protein but against various viral components. The efficacy of the vaccine is not negatively affected by any of the known SARS-CoV-2 variants. 

Tübingen vaccine development, production and testing

CoVac-1 is produced in the drug peptide laboratory and the GMP unit at the University Hospitals and Medical Faculty in Tübingen. Here, too, the long experience and expertise in the production of vaccines for cancer patients is being drawn upon. The clinical evaluation of the vaccine is carried out in the KKE Translational Immunology unit, a unique facility in Germany in the Department of Internal Medicine. It was established in order to be able to carefully test innovative immunotherapy concepts in initial clinical trials so that patients can benefit as early as possible from new discoveries. 

Further development of CoVac-1

Based on these study results, the Phase II study investigating CoVac-1 in patients with congenital or acquired immunoglobulin deficiency was initiated in June. These include, for example, leukemia or lymphoma patients who are unable to build up sufficient antibody-mediated immunity due to their condition or treatment.

Title of original publication

A COVID-19 Peptide Vaccine for the Induction of SARS-CoV-2 T-Cell Immunity; https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04232-5

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Updated 01.12.2020:

Novel vaccine to activate T-cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 in trial - Tübingen University Hospitals launch trial of in-house developed vaccine

At the Tübingen University Hospitals, clinical trials have started of a vaccine developed in house to combat SARS-CoV-2. In contrast to most anti-Covid-19 vaccines currently being tested, the vaccine CoVAC1, designed by the Department of Immunology (Director Prof. Hans-Georg Rammensee) of the University of Tübingen, aims highly specifically at stimulating a T-cell mediated immune response against SARS-COV-2. The clinical trial, funded by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts, is based on the work and led by PD Dr. Juliane Walz in the KKE Translational Immunology of the Medical Clinic (Medical Director Prof. Helmut Salih) of the University Hospitals. The Paul Ehrlich Institute, which is responsible for approving clinical trials, gave the green light for the vaccination trial to begin on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, as did the mandatory approval of the ethics committee.

Tübingen University Hospitals press release (01.12.2020)

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Our immune system can efficiently fend off viral diseases. Two cell types play an important role in this: T cells, which firstly can directly destroy virus-infected cells and secondly enable the formation of efficient, virus-neutralizing antibodies by B cells. These two cell types also play a crucial role in fighting the SARS-CoV-2 infection. While antibody testing is already routinely performed, little is known about the T cell response to SARS-CoV-2.

In a recent study, the working group headed by Dr. Juliane Walz in the Clinical Cooperation Unit Translational Immunology (KKE) at the Tübingen University Hospitals and the Department of Immunology of the Tübingen Interfaculty Institute of Cell Biology was able to identify the target structures (T cell epitopes) for a T cell response against SARS-CoV-2. For the work published in “Nature Immunology”, a total of more than 180 subjects were examined after surviving COVID-19 disease. The T-cell epitopes identified in the study provided evidence that T-cell immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 occurred in 100 percent of patients after infection. This was true even in patients in whom no antibody response was detectable.

Previous experience with two other coronaviruses - SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV-2 - as well as initial reports about individuals having recovered from COVID-19 suggest that T cell responses do indeed play a significant role in the body’s defense against SARS-CoV-2, as is the case with all other viral infections. To study these T-cell responses, it is first necessary to identify the components of the virus, known as epitopes, that can be recognized by T cells. “These epitopes are not only important for the study and diagnosis of the immune response, but can also form the basis for the development of vaccines,” says research group leader Juliane Walz.

In addition, the study, which was funded by a COVID-19 special grant from the German Ministry of Education and Research, examined individuals’ blood samples collected before the outbreak of the pandemic and which therefore had had no contact with SARS-CoV-2. This showed that small amounts of T cells recognizing viral components were detectable even in 81 percent of the donors examined without contact with SARS-CoV-2.

This could be due to the donors’ previous contact with other human cold coronaviruses (HCoV-OC43, HCoV-229E, HCoV-NL63, and HCoV- HKU1).

However, such cross-reactive T-cell recognition does not equal immunity to SARS-CoV-2. “How this cross-reactive T-cell recognition affects SARS-CoV-2 infection in 81 percent of the population, as well as the severity of the disease, is something we will investigate prospectively in further studies,” Walz said with regard to this finding.

Based on the findings of this study, the team of the KKE Translational Immunology (Medical Director: Prof. Dr. Helmut Salih) together with the Immunology Department (Director: Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Rammensee) is currently developing a clinical trial that will investigate a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 consisting of the T cell epitopes identified here. That such an approach, primarily aimed at inducing T cell responses against SARS-CoV-2, could be promising is supported by first long-term data from AG Walz. In a previously unpublished follow-up study of the subjects - now six months after infection - strong T-cell responses against SARS-CoV-2 could still be detected, while the antibody responses, especially against the spike protein, via which the virus can enter a cell, had already dropped significantly.

Tübingen University Hospitals press release (30.09.2020)

Original title of the publication: 

Nelde, A., Bilich, T., Heitmann, J.S. et al. SARS-CoV-2-derived peptides define heterologous and COVID-19-induced T cell recognition. Nat Immunol (2020).

DOI: 10.1038/s41590-020-00808-x

Publication available at the following URL: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41590-020-00808-x.

Media contacts

Tübingen University Hospitals
Department of Medicine
KKE Translational Immunology
PD Dr. Juliane Walz
Otfried-Müller-Strasse 10, 72076 Tübingen
 Phone: +49 (0)7071 29-88548
pressespam prevention@med.uni-tuebingen.de 

15.10.2021: Reshaping working conditions

During the COVID 19 pandemic, companies and entire industries had to modify and adapt their operational activities with elaborate infection control measures, restrict their operations or even stop them completely. Also, "ramping up" the economy again, continuing or resuming activities, is a major challenge because restrictions remain and companies cannot simply return to pre-pandemic times. In this project, funded by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts, the continuation or resumption of operational activities in various companies and institutions will be scientifically monitored. A central component of the study is close cooperation with company stakeholders. Researchers will analyze how employees and managers experience their changed working conditions as well as the infection protection measures in the workplace and how the risk of infection is assessed during the pandemic. Furthermore, best practice examples for the adaptation of work-related protection and hygiene measures will be derived to enable the transferability of the results to similar operational settings.

03.06.2021: Pandemic and subjective well-being: Girls and children from socially disadvantaged families

An international study with the participation of Tübingen education researcher Sascha Neumann investigated what influences the well-being of young people in the coronavirus crisis in Brazil, Germany and Luxembourg. The most important determinants are surprisingly similar in all three countries.

Young people between the ages of 10 and 16 in Luxembourg, Germany and Brazil recorded a significant decline in life satisfaction during the first wave of the pandemic. This had been shown last year by initial analyses from the international COVID KIDS study, which the University of Tübingen also reported on at the time (https://uni-tuebingen.de/fakultaeten/wirtschafts-und-sozialwissenschaftliche-fakultaet/forschung/newsfullview-forschung-top-aktuell/article/wie-kinder-und-jugendliche-unter-der-pandemie-leiden-1/). Now, the research team from the Universities of Luxembourg, and Tübingen, together with partners from the Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie and the Universidade Federal da Bahia in Brazil, have used data from their 2020 online survey to examine the relationship between 20 potential factors and adolescents' subjective well-being during the pandemic. The results of the analyses have now appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Lower well-being since the start of the pandemic was associated in each country with being a girl, having a lower socioeconomic status, and having been less satisfied before the pandemic. In addition, a number of other factors were identified as being associated with respondents' well-being, including fear of getting sick because of the virus, amount of schoolwork, satisfaction with one's freedom, and satisfaction with the way adults listen. 

The researchers developed statistical models using a range of risk and protective factors to assess factors influencing well-being among more than 1,600 10-16 year-olds surveyed during the pandemic. The focus was on whether common predictors of well-being would emerge among young people from different geographic and cultural backgrounds. Key predictors included gender, socioeconomic status, relationship with adults, and fear of getting sick.  

The researchers involved were surprised by the similarities in the three countries, which have different infection curves and different pandemic response measures. "This suggests that the factors influencing adolescent well-being are similar, despite the different contexts," says Sascha Neumann. The findings may help inform the development of targeted interventions to promote child and adolescent mental health during the global pandemic. 

"If the amount and type of schoolwork clearly also affects well-being, then it is important to take this into account when planning lessons, especially in distance learning situations" said educationalist Claudine Kirsch of the University of Luxembourg. "Anxiety and stress, which can be caused by concerns about illness, and the way adults listen to young people are other factors that may open windows of opportunity for educational and psychological support" adds her colleague Pascale Engel de Abreu. 

Last but not least, the study also shows the significant impact of the pandemic on the well-being of girls as well as young people from socially less privileged families. For this reason, Sascha Neumann believes that targeted interventions are particularly necessary "that are tailored to the special needs of these vulnerable groups".

Publication:

Pascale M.J. Engel de Abreu, Sascha Neumann, Cyril Wealer, Neander Abreu, Elizeu Coutinho Macedo und Claudine Kirsch (2021). Subjective well-being of adolescents in Luxembourg, Germany, and Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Adolescent Health 68 (2021).  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2021.04.028 

Contact:

Professor Dr. Sascha Neumann
University of Tübingen
Economics and Social Sciences 
Institute of Education
  +49 7071 29-76750
sascha.neumannspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de

25.05.2021: Keeping an eye on SARS-CoV-2 variants

Study published in respected journal Nature Communications

The Covid-19 pathogen is constantly evolving. Virus variants have evolved from the original SARS-CoV-2 which are potentially more infectious due to changes in their surface protein and which could possibly trigger more dangerous effects in patients. In addition, it is still unclear whether vaccination or surviving infection is effective against new virus variants. A team of scientists from the NMI Natural and Medical Sciences Institute in Reutlingen and the University Hospitals in Tübingen have therefore taken a close look at these changes. Their findings show that most virus variants are neutralized efficiently. However, the research teams are concerned about the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, to which antibodies such as those produced after vaccination no longer bind efficiently, and the virus variant is insufficiently neutralized. From this it becomes increasingly clear that the SARS-CoV-2 variants are not to be underestimated. The new findings have been published in Nature Communications.

MULTICOV-AB shows antibody levels significantly more stable after second vaccination 

Particularly with regard to current vaccination campaigns, the study describes the extent to which the immune system also develops a response against viral variants. Basically, the immune response that follows an infection or vaccination consists of antibodies. In particular, the neutralizing effect of antibodies actively prevents the virus from invading the body's own cells. In the study, the antibody test MULTICOV-AB developed at the NMI was used to determine the immune response in serum and saliva samples from vaccinated, infected, and uninfected patients. Scientists led by Dr. Nicole Schneiderhan-Marra, head of Pharma and Biotech at the NMI, found that the measured antibody levels after infection with a coronavirus variant are in principle very different. "We were able to show that serum samples from patients who had already been vaccinated for the second time with the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine exhibited a stable antibody response," Schneiderhan-Marra said. "This is characterized by high IgG antibody levels in blood and saliva, indicating a reduced risk of transmission in vaccinated individuals" she says. At the same time, however, it was found that the antibodies formed with respect to the Delta variant showed only conditional binding to neutralizing regions in the surface protein of the virus. In cooperation with the Virology Department of the Tübingen University Hospitals (Prof. Dr. Michael Schindler), the teams were also able to confirm reduced neutralization with virus variants isolated from patients. “Given the data from other research teams, we expected this effect," Schindler says, "however, the extent of reduced neutralization of the Delta variants after immunization or having undergone infection was quite remarkable," the researcher says. Since the immune system fights pathogens by different mechanisms, the research team writes, it is unclear whether this leads to a reduced protective effect.

From the study, it becomes clear how important it is to adhere to the set vaccination dates in order to ensure sufficient basic immunization. In addition, it is of utmost relevance to continue to keep an eye on virus variants in order to always be able to assess the effectiveness of the vaccines. 

The research project was made possible by funding from the Baden-Württemberg State Ministries of Economics, Labor and Tourism and Science, Research and the Arts, the Initiative and Networking Fund of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers (grant numberSO-96), the German Research Foundation (DFG-KO 3884/5-1), and the EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement number 101003480-CORESMA), among others.

Title of original publication

Becker et al. (2021). Immune response to SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern in vaccinated individuals. NATURE COMMUNICATIONS https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-23473-6 

Tübingen University Hospitals and Natural and Medical Sciences Institute joint press release: https://www.medizin.uni-tuebingen.de/de/das-klinikum/pressemeldungen/376?press_str= 

24.05.2021 (Update): A computer model reveals possible points of attack by virus and virus mutants

Effective drugs against the novel coronavirus are still urgently needed. All the more so as the emergence of virus mutants could push vaccines to their limits. Andreas Dräger, research group leader in the Cluster of Excellence "Control of Microorganisms to Fight Infections" (CMFI) at the University of Tübingen and DZIF scientist, has been working for more than a year on a computer model that identifies weak points and thus possible points of attack of the virus. For example, he has identified a human enzyme as a possible point of attack. In his latest study, this result is confirmed; Dräger makes new points of attack visible and shows that they also affect the currently common mutants.

"We already saw in our model at the beginning of the year that a human enzyme - guanylate kinase 1 - is indispensable for virus replication," says Dr. Andreas Draeger. If this kinase is switched off, the virus can no longer reproduce. "The cell, however, is not damaged, which is of great importance for a potential active agent," adds Dräger. With a DZIF assistant professorship at the University of Tübingen, the Dräger works in computational systems biology. For this approach, he and his teammates Alina Renz and Lina Widerspick further developed an integrated computer model that works with the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and human cells, the alveolar macrophages. The latter are responsible for the defense against foreign substances in the alveoli.

A genome-level metabolic model

The initial situation in the model is that the virus has invaded the host, in this case the human alveolar macrophage, and has already reprogrammed it. The model now assumes that the virus wants to produce new virus particles and spread. To do so, it uses materials from the host and forces host cells to produce new virus components. "If you know the composition of the virus, you can run different scenarios and see how the biochemical reactions in the host cells change during a virus infection."

Greater knowledge about the virus improves the model

In the current study, the research group was able to refine its computer model with new information on the structural proteins and lipid metabolism of SARS-CoV-2, thereby also identifying new potential targets in nucleotide and lipid metabolism. In addition, he supplemented the information on the new virus mutants and analyzed whether the previously-identified weak points were also present here. The result was the same for all mutants tested: if gyanylate kinase 1 (GK1) was switched off, the replication of the virus was stopped.    

Andreas Draeger's team assumes that these results will provide an important basis for the development of inhibitors of the new coronavirus. Both guanylate kinase 1 and some of the drug targets found in nucleotide or lipid metabolism could respond to antiviral substances without harming humans. "Some inhibitors of the enzyme are already known and we now want to test already approved inhibitors for their efficacy against the new coronavirus as soon as possible with our Hamburg-based cooperation partner Dr. Bernhard Ellinger from the Fraunhofer IME ScreeningPort (IME)," explains Andreas Dräger.

Press release German Centre for Infection Research  (DZIF)

Publication:

Renz A, Widerspick L, Dräger A. Genome-Scale Metabolic Model of Infection with SARS-CoV-2 Mutants Confirms Guanylate Kinase as Robust Potential Antiviral Target. Genes 12: 796. (2021) doi: https://doi.org/10.3390/genes12060796.

Contact:

Dr. Andreas Dräger
University of Tübingen
Cluster of Excellence: Control of Microorganisms to Combat Infection (CMFI)
Institute of Biomedical Informatics (IBMI) Computational Systems Biology of Infections and Antimicrobial-Resistant Pathogens.
 +49 7071 29-70459
draegerspam prevention@informatik.uni-tuebingen.de

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The Tübingen bioinformatics specialists, assistant professor Dr. Andreas Dräger, Alina Renz and Lina Widerspick from the Department of Computer-Based Systems Biology of Infections were able to identify a potential drug target for the treatment of the infectious disease COVID-19. In flow balance analyses (FBA), switching off a human enzyme stopped the reproduction of the virus without impairing cell growth. For their approach they used an integrated computer model with the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and human alveolar macrophages. The drug target identified is the enzyme guanylate kinase (GK1). GK1 inhibitors have already been described in the literature; their potential for treating COVID-19 infections is now to be tested experimentally. 

Article COVID-19 Disease Map, building a computational repository of SARS-CoV-2 virus-host interaction mechanisms (Sci Data)

Interview with Assistant Professor Dr. Andreas Dräger (Uni Tübingen aktuell 2/2020)

19.05.2021: Immunity against SARS-CoV-2 in cancer patients

Study published in Cancer Discovery

Cancer patients are at increased risk for a severe course of Covid-19 after SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study conducted by the Clinical Cooperation Unit (CCU) Translational Immunology and the Department of Immunology at the University Hospital of Tübingen as well as the Robert Bosch Center for Tumor Diseases (RBCT) in Stuttgart uncovered a reduced SARS-CoV-2 T cell response as underlying reason for the dismal outcome in cancer patients. Based on these results, the research team developed a multi-peptide vaccine candidate for the induction of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell immunity in cancer patients. The results of the new study were recently published in Cancer Discovery, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Cancer patients, in particular patients with hematological malignancies such as leukemias or lymphomas, are at increased risk of a more severe disease course after SARS-CoV-2 infection. A compromised immune response in tumor patients due to the disease itself and/or caused by cancer therapy may constitute the reason for the dismal outcome. "After infection with SARS-CoV-2, but also after prophylactic vaccination the formation of a specific immune response, is essential for protection against COVID-19 disease and the development of long-term immunity," explains Dr. Juliane Walz. Two components of the immune system play a crucial role in the development of immunity: B cells form antibodies that can neutralize the virus, whereas T cells destroy virus-infected cells and support the formation of antibodies. Dr. Walz's research group has studied the immune response against SARS-CoV-2 in tumor patients. The reported data provides important insights into pathophysiology, but also for the prediction of COVID-19 disease severity and enables the development of therapeutic interventions and vaccines for this vulnerable patient group.

The study that was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research included cancer patients during and after SARS-CoV-2 infection. Immune responses against the virus were compared to those of individuals without cancer diagnosis. "We found that the antibody response against SARS-CoV-2 in tumor patients was comparable to that of non-cancer Covid-19 convalescents. In contrast, tumor patients – and in particular patients with hematological malignancies – showed significantly reduced T cell responses against SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, T cells from tumor patients recognized fewer different components of the coronavirus. This so-called reduced diversity of the T cell response in tumor patients was associated with a severe course of COVID-19 disease," Dr. Walz said. 

In addition, the study that was conducted in collaboration with the Departments of Hematology and Oncology in Tübingen and Bonn, as well as the Tübingen Clinic for Gynecology, Dermatology and the Department of Urology, examined blood samples from cancer patients obtained before the outbreak of the pandemic and thus without any contact to SARS-CoV-2. In a previous study, the researchers from Tübingen, had demonstrated that so-called cross-reactive T cells against SARS-CoV-2 are present in up to 81 percent of healthy donors due to prior contact with other common cold coronaviruses. Such preexisting cross-reactive T-cell responses may provide protection against SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 disease. The Tübingen research group has now been able to demonstrate that such cross-reactive T cell responses are significantly reduced in patients with leukemias and lymphomas. As underlying reason, a general exhaustion of the T cell immunity in these patients was identified, which is exemplified by a likewise reduced T cell response against other viral diseases.

Based on the findings of this study, the CCU Translational Immunology team (Medical Director: Prof. Dr. Helmut Salih) together with the Department of Immunology (Director: Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Rammensee) in Tübingen is preparing a clinical trial to investigate a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for specific induction of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell immunity cancer patients. The vaccine candidate termed CoVac-1 has already been evaluated in a trial that enrolled healthy volunteers. Preliminary results show induction of strong T-cell responses after vaccination. 

Title of original publication:

Pre-existing and post-COVID-19 immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 in cancer patients; https://cancerdiscovery.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2021/05/14/2159-8290.CD-21-0191

Contact

University Hospital Tübingen
Medical Clinic
KKE Translational Immunology
PD Dr. Juliane Walz
Otfried-Müller-Strasse 10, 72076 Tübingen
 Phone: +49 (0)7071 29-88548
presse@med.uni-tuebingen.de 

26.01.2021: New rapid test to detect Coronavirus antibodies

Results in just twelve minutes - New test procedure outperforms ELISA method - “Milestone in immunological diagnostics”

An international research team from the Universities of Paraná, Brazil, and Tübingen, Germany, has developed a rapid test that takes only minutes to reliably detect antibodies responding to the Covid-19 pathogen SARS-Cov2 in blood. The new procedure can be carried out without expensive instruments due to a simple measuring principle - and is therefore also suitable for mobile testing stations and for laboratories in economically less developed regions. The new diagnostic method is also significantly faster than what’s known as the ELISA method, which for decades has been considered the gold standard in the laboratory diagnosis of antibodies. 

The new test method is based on magnetic nanoparticles coated with viral antigens. To perform the test, blood serum or blood is applied to the test surface. After about two minutes, the nanoparticles are washed and treated with a developer reagent. If the blood sample shows antibodies to the coronavirus, a color change occurs. While the result of the traditional ELISA test is available after about three hours, the new method requires only twelve minutes, according to the results of the study.  

Effective on both acutely ill and recovered patients

Antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus generally form eleven to 16 days after the onset of symptoms. However, some patients produce antibodies at detectable levels as early as two to four days after the first symptoms. Immunological testing can therefore serve as an additional tool to help identify patients in the acute phase of covid-19 or patients who test as false negatives on PCR testing.

The new test performed better than the ELISA method, particularly for samples with low antibody titers. According to the study, the method worked with a sensitivity of 87 percent as well as a specificity of 99 percent of the Covid-19 samples tested. Positive and negative results can be detected with the naked eye. The use of additional instruments, such as a microplate reader, could further increase the precision of the test. In addition, the new method provides data on the amount of antibodies as well as on their presence or absence.

The authors of the study expect that the new method can be offered in the future at prices comparable with the ELISA test. The technology is available for research, development and innovation partnerships through the University of Paraná’s Innovation Agency, which holds the legal and patent rights.

Publication: 

Luciano F. Huergo, Khaled A. Selim, Marcelo S. Conzentino, Edileusa C. M. Gerhardt, Adrian R. S. Santos, Berenike Wagner, Janette T. Alford, Nelli Deobald, Fabio O. Pedrosa, Emanuel M. de Souza, Meri B. Nogueira, Sônia M. Raboni, Dênio Souto, Fabiane G. M. Rego, Dalila L. Zanette, Mateus N. Aoki, Jeanine M. Nardin, Bruna Fornazari, Hugo M. P. Morales, Vânia A. Borges, Annika Nelde, Juliane S. Walz, Matthias Becker, Nicole Schneiderhan-Marra, Ulrich Rothbauer, Rodrigo A. Reis, and Karl Forchhammer. Magnetic Bead-Based Immunoassay Allows Rapid, Inexpensive, and Quantitative Detection of Human SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies. ACS Sens, January 26, 2021; https://doi.org/10.1021/acssensors.0c02544   

Contact: 

Professor Dr. Luciano F. Huergo 
Universidade Federal do Paraná
 +55 41996765856
luciano.huergospam prevention@gmail.com 

Professor Dr. Karl Forchhammer
University of Tübingen
Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine
 +49 7071 29-72096
karl.forchhammerspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de 

Dr. Khaled Selim
University of Tübingen 
Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine 
 +49 7071 29-72096
khaled.selimspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de   

12.01.2021: Highly potent "nanobodies" to combat SARS-CoV-2

The Tübingen University Hospitals’ Molecular Virology research section, headed by Prof. Dr. Michael Schindler, is involved in a study published in "Science" that has established new highly potent "nanobodies" to combat SARS-CoV-2.

Nanobodies are similar to antibodies, but due to their small size they offer many advantages in terms of their production, stability and activity. In the consortium led by the University Hospital Bonn, it was the Tübingen virologists’s task to analyze the antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2 in the safety laboratory of the Institute of Medical Virology and Epidemiology of Viral Diseases. A particular area of expertise here is live-cell microscopy on infected cell cultures, which can be used to track the spread of the virus in real time. “We were impressed by how potent the nanobodies were in preventing virus replication and spread of SARS-CoV-2 at very low concentrations,” Schindler said of the study's results. The nanobodies are now being further developed for direct treatment of SARS-CoV-2 in a company founded by researchers at University Hospital Bonn.

Link to publication of the study in Science:

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2021/01/11/science.abe6230 

Contact:

Tübingen University Hospitals
Molecular Virology, Institute of Medical Virology and Epidemiology of Viral Diseases 
Professor Dr. Michael Schindler
 +49 7071-29 87459
michael.schindlerspam prevention@med.uni-tuebingen.de 

22.09.2020: Making corona viruses harmless with UV-C radiation

Professor Michael Schindler from the Tübingen University Hospitals (UKT) and Professor Jennifer Niessner from the Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences (HHN) investigate the effectiveness of UV radiation in inactivating coronaviruses in aerosols. 

Can UV-C radiation render coronaviruses in the air harmless? The virologists in Tübingen have shown this works when the coronaviruses are located on solid surfaces. Not, however, for viruses in airborne particles, i.e. aerosols, which continue to severely restrict public life in Germany and elsewhere. Engineers from Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences and virologists from Tübingen University Hospitals are now tackling this important task in a unique interdisciplinary project. 

The team led by HHN’s Professor Jennifer Niessner is therefore designing and building an aerosol test rig that will be integrated into the sterile bench of a high-security laboratory at Tübingen University Hospitals. The project partners there, led by Professor Michael Schindler, are working with infectious SARS-CoV-2 viruses and are testing for the first time whether and with which UV-C irradiation dose coronaviruses can be inactivated in aerosols. 

Indeed, these technologies using UV-C radiation could become another technological tool to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. They could also provide an energy-efficient and quiet alternative to air purification technologies used today, such as high-performance filters. 

UV-C units could once more make personal contact safer in schools, kindergartens, universities, and also in offices, hospitals and medical practices, in administrative and production facilities, as well as in hotels, restaurants and cultural institutions.

The state of Baden-Württemberg is funding the Testaerosols project with nearly 1.6 million euros. The University of Stuttgart, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Tübingen University Hospitals and Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences are participating in the project.

Contact:

Tübingen University Hospitals
Molecular Virology, Institute of Medical Virology and Epidemiology of Viral Diseases 
Professor Dr. Michael Schindler
+49 7071-29 87459
michael.schindlerspam prevention@med.uni-tuebingen.de 

20.09.2020: Tübingen study: Intensive treatment of Covid-19

Multicentric data acquisition across Germany

A Germany-wide study at the Tübingen University Hospitals, coordinated by Professor Dr. Peter Rosenberger and Dr. Harry Magunia, is collecting structured data from former Covid-19 intensive care patients in order to gather and evaluate experience with Covid-19 treatment in Germany. Interested hospitals can register now.

It is estimated that almost five percent of Covid-19 patients require intensive care treatment due to their infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Within the scope of the Germany-wide survey, data from Covid-19 patients who were treated in the intensive care unit are currently being recorded and characterized in a structured manner retrospectively for the period 01.01.2020 to 31.07.2020. A prospective extension is already being planned. The goal of the study is to summarize experience with Covid-19 treatment and evaluate incidences of specific therapies such as antiviral medication. The study will collect data pseudonymously with existing clinical treatment data. No changes in therapy or additional studies will take place. 

Contact:

Tübingen University Hospitals
Clinic for Anaesthesiology and Intensive Medicine
Professor Dr. Peter Rosenberger
 +49 7071 29-86622
Peter.Rosenbergerspam prevention@med.uni-tuebingen.de 

21.07.2020: Radiation dose reduction and development of an ultra-low dose CT protocol of the thorax in COVID-19

Goals of the study:

The scientific objective of this study is to evaluate radiation dose reduction in CT scans of the thorax and its effects on the detection of typical lung conditions and on the correct classification of classified severity of lung damage in COVID-19 patients.

In the current pandemic, computed tomography (CT) has taken on a central role in triaging, early detection, course assessment, and prediction of severe courses. Due to the multiple CT examinations that are often performed during the course of the disease, the affected patients are exposed to a significant amount of radiation. Thus, the radiation dose reduction of these CT examinations is an important goal, however, this leads to possible limitations of the diagnostic significance due to an increase of the image noise. In this project, the effects of dose reduction in thoracic CT in COVID-19 will be evaluated in order to develop an adequate protocol with optimized, reduced dose levels.

Background, special qualifications and preliminary work for this project:

Because lung changes in COVID-19 can be very subtle, e.g., in the form of discrete milky-glass-like compressions, there is a risk of false-negative findings if the radiation dose is inappropriately reduced. Therefore, the effects of radiation dose reduction on the diagnostic accuracy of thoracic CT in COVID-19 should be evaluated in detail before so-called ultra-low-dose CT (ULD-CT) protocols can be used in clinical routine. To this end, this project will include all patients who have received chest CT for suspected COVID-19 or subsequent disease progression. Using validated algorithms, data sets with lower radiation doses will be simulated and reconstructed from the available chest CT data without actually examining the patients repeatedly. Thus, the different dose levels can be evaluated inter- and intra-individually.

The present cooperation project is coordinated by the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology at the Tübingen University Hospitals (PD Dr. Ahmed Othman, Dr. Saif Afat, Prof. Dr. Konstantin Nikolaou) in cooperation with the other radiological university hospitals in Baden-Württemberg. At these locations, there is great expertise in the field of thoracic radiology as well as established working groups on the topic of radiation dose reduction in CT, on the basis of which several projects are or were under way.

Questions and end points:

With the support of 5 participating university centers in Baden-Württemberg, the following questions will be investigated:

  • Investigation of the effects of radiation dose reduction on image quality and diagnostic accuracy of thoracic CT in COVID-19 in relation to the evaluation of COVID-typical findings and the severity of lung damage.
  • Development of an optimal ultra-low dose (ULD) CT protocol with high diagnostic accuracy at the lowest possible radiation dose.

The following endpoints are defined:

  • Evaluation of the diagnostic accuracy of dose-reduced chest CT for the detection of COVID-19 with virus detection based on PCR as a reference standard.
  • Grade of agreement between original and dose-reduced CTs with regard to lung damage and assessment of severity in COVID-1.

Contact:

Tübingen University Hospitals
Department of Radiology, Diagnostic and Interventional Neuroradiology
Professor Dr. med. Konstantin Nikolaou
 Phone 07071 29-82087
konstantin.nikolaouspam prevention@med.uni-tuebingen.de   

21.07.2020: The role of platelet apoptosis in blood clot activation in COVID-19

The mortality rate (lethality) among ventilated COVID-19 patients is significantly higher than that of non-ventilated patients. Doctors frequently observe uncontrolled activation of blood coagulation (coagulopathy) in severe COVID-19 disease, which is associated with high lethality. In a study of COVID-19 patients, a Tübingen research team led by Professor Dr. Tamam Bakchoul from the Tübingen Department of Coagulation and Transfusion Medicine observed a strong association between platelet apoptosis, i.e. the death of platelets, and thromboembolic events (e.g. pulmonary embolisms, portal vein thromboses, renal infarctions) as well as coagulation activation. In the project now approved by the state of Baden-Württemberg, molecular mechanisms and genetic influencing factors of this COVID-19 induced platelet apoptosis will be investigated. The goal is the development of therapeutic approaches and their preclinical testing.

Contact:

Tübingen University Hospitals
Institute of Transfusion Medicine
Professor Dr. Tamam Bakchoul
Medical Director
 Phone 07071 29-81602
tamam.bakchoulspam prevention@med.uni-tuebingen.de   

21.07.2020: Lessons Learned - Development of a strategy for outpatient care in pandemic situations in Baden-Württemberg

To avoid an overload of emergency and intensive care during a pandemic situation, it is essential to ensure outpatient care. In Baden-Württemberg, 51 coronavirus outpatient clinics (CA), 206 coronavirus-focus practices (CSP) and 16 testing sites (AS) were established within a very short time at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. These makeshift facilities and existing primary care practices were able to provide care to approximately 85% of Covid-19 patients* on a purely outpatient basis.

The goal of this collaborative project is to compile and analyze the experience and data collected in these structures to find recommendations for future pandemic/crisis situations. In addition, findings on the form and frequency of post-Covid syndrome will be obtained by follow-up interviews with people who have suffered from Covid-19.

The applicant for the joint project run by the university institutions for general medicine in Baden-Württemberg is Prof. Dr. Stefanie Joos from the Institute for General Medicine and Interprofessional Care at the Tübingen University Hospitals, and also cooperation partners in Freiburg, Heidelberg and Ulm. Other potenial cooperation partners are the KV Baden-Württemberg and local health authorities.

Concrete questions - special qualifications and preliminary work for this project: 

Outpatient care structures, and CA/CSP/AS in particular, are systematically examined in light of the following five key questions: 

1. Mapping the structural features of CA/CSP/AS (Allgemeinmedizin Ulm) 

What structures were established, how and by whom? How did they communicate? (Access routes, patient pathways, billing, distribution of tasks, etc.) 

2. Documentation and information paths in CA/CSP/AS (Allgemeinmedizin Freiburg) 

What formats were used for documentation? (electronic/paper-based, classifications, degree of standardization, etc.) How was information exchanged, e.g., intersectorally? 

3. CA/CSP/AS supply perspective (Allgemeinmedizin Heidelberg) 

What has been the experience of the medical staff in CA/CSP/AS? (Utilization, acceptance, allocation, equipment, cooperation with general practitioners/health authorities/clinics, quarantine regulations, etc.). 

4. Patient* characteristics in CA/CSP/AS (Allgemeinmedizin Tübingen) 

Which patients were cared for in CA/CSP? (Proportion of SARS-CoV-2 positive patients clinical characterization, potential predictors for hospitalization and occurrence of post-Covid syndrome). 

5. Perspective of primary care teams not involved in CA/CSP (all sites, coordination by Allgemeinmedizin Tübingen) 

What has been the experience in cooperation with CA/CSP/AS? How is the care situation of non-Covid-19 patients assessed? 

The results of the 5 subprojects will be processed with the aim of providing concrete recommendations for action with regard to outpatient care structures and their interfaces in future pandemic crisis situations. 

Contact:

Professor Dr. med. Stefanie Joos
stefanie.joosspam prevention@med.uni-tuebingen.de  

30.06.2020: What is the role of immune responses and coagulation activation in fatal cases of COVID-19?

Complement activation, thromboinflammation, and proinflammatory cytokines

Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to infect and destroy endothelia, the cells of the innermost wall layer of lymphatic and blood vessels. Such florid endothelialitis, with systemic activation of blood coagulation and formation of micro- and macrothromboses, is considered a key event in severe courses of COVID-19 with fatal outcomes. Currently, it is unclear which factors contribute to endothelialitis with its sequelae in these cases besides direct infection of endothelia. Using extensively documented autopsy cases from the four university pathology institutes in BW with autopsy material of the lung, heart and lymphatic organs, the following aspects will be investigated: 

  • The role of complement activation (activation of immune responses) and coagulation activation and the composition of the inflammatory microenvironment in COVID-19-associated pulmonary vasculitis, i.e., inflammation in the lung.  
  • Inflammatory/immunologic response patterns of heart and lymphoid organs, such as the spleen. 

The proposed project will provide important insights into pathogenesis of vascular inflammation and immunopathology of COVID-19, i.e., inflammatory processes in blood vessels triggered by the disease and organic damage caused by immune reactions. The applicants are Prof. Dr Falko Fend, Prof. Dr. Karin Klingel and PD Dr. Hans Bösmüller of the Institute of Pathology and Neuropathology at the University Hospitals (UKT). Medical researchers from the UKT and the Freiburg, Heidelberg and Ulm university hospitals are also involved. This is a sub-project in autopsy-based research at the four university institutes for pathology in Baden-Württemberg. 

Publication:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32607684/ 

Contact:

Professor Dr. med. Falko Fend
Medical Director, Institute of Pathology and Neuropathology
 +49 7071 29-82266
falko.fendspam prevention@med.uni-tuebingen.de 

16.06.2020 (Update): Covid-19 study on virus spread among children

What role do children play in the spread of the Coronavirus? The Tübingen University Children’s Hospital - Department of Paediatrics is seeking the answer to that question with a new study - jointly with three other University medical centers, headed by Heidelberg.  The initiative for the study came from State Premier Winfried Kretschmann; the state of Baden-Württemberg is to cover the cost of around 1.2 million euros.

With a jointly-conceived screening study, the Tübingen University Hospitals and the Medical Centers in Freiburg, Heidelberg and Ulm determine how many children and their parents are currently infected with SARS-CoV2; and how many have had contact with the Coronavirus and have developed corresponding antibodies to protect them against it as a result. A total of 2000 households, i.e. 2000 children and 2000 parents, were surveyed and examined for this study.

The study included healthy children aged 1-10 and a parent of each. It excluded children and parents who had had a past infection with SARS-CoV2 proven by a test. (Families of “index patients” (with SARS-CoV2) are to be addressed separately in a follow-up project.)
“The progression of a Coronavirus infection may be different in children than in adults. What role children play in the spread of Coronavirus would be highly relevant in the current debate surrounding the re-opening of child care facilities and schools. This study could lead to recommendations to help protect both children and adults,” says Professor Axel Franz, Director of the Center for Pediatric Clinical Studies at the University Children’s Hospital.

The researchers expect their findings to include indications of whether there are differences in the infection rate depending on the ages of the children; whether children and parents infect each other, and to what extent the parents’ accommodation situation and profession play a role. Particularly important is any difference between children who had continued contact with other children in emergency child care and those who were solely in the care of their immediate family. The idea, procedure, and evaluation of the study is a joint effort at four locations; the first results from it are to be publicized as soon as possible due to the current situation.

Link to study: 

Contact:

Professor Axel Franz
Center for Pediatric Clinical Studies (CPCS) at the Tübingen University Children’s Hospital - Department of Paediatrics
E-Mail: cpcsspam prevention@med.uni-tuebingen.de 

08.05.2020: German COVID-19 OMICS Initiative (DeCOI): Genome researchers join forces

How does the new Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) alter its genetic information? Which other infections occur in patients with COVID-19? Are there genetic risk factors which promote infections? Many genome researchers are pooling their expertise and sequencing infrastructure so as to make a scientific contribution to managing the COVID-19 pandemic. These activities are now being brought together officially in the German COVID-19 OMICS initiative (DeCOI), to accelerate research in the field. Researchers at more than 22 institutions are active in DeCOI - and that number is growing.

The central coordination is in the hands of Professor Joachim Schultze at the University of Bonn. Participants at the University of Tübingen include Professor Oliver Kohlbacher of the Interfaculty Institute for Biomedical Informatics (IBMI)  and Dr. Sven Nahnsen at the Quantitative Biology Center (QBiC). At the University Hospitals Professor Olaf Rieß and Professor Stephan Ossowski, both of the Institute of Medical Genetics and Applied Genomics, and Professor July Frick of the Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene are all members of the initiative.

The SARS-CoV-2 genome is being sequenced at many locations around the world in order to identify changes in the virus’s genetic code. The more these virus genomes are sequenced, the better researchers can understand its variations. With the analysis of related structures in individual viruses, scientists can draw conclusions about their origins and about different forms of the virus in the population. 

All areas of genome research produce vast data sets which are analyzed using powerful computers. “Only by making proper connections between the clinical data and the genomic data can we make the biggest possible contribution to understanding COVID-19,” says Oliver Kohlbacher. The DeCOI alliance aims to answer many of the key questions faster by working together. DeCOI will work closely also with other initiatives to establish worldwide solid information to help deal with the crisis.

08.05.2020: COVID-19: Expert opinions on the current risk situation and on the measures taken

What do experts in the fields of virology, microbiology, hygiene, tropical medicine, immunology and internal medicine/ intensive care say about the current risks and measures regarding the Covid-19 pandemic? How certain/ reliable is the current state of knowledge? Researchers at the University Hospitals in Tübingen and Hamburg-Eppendorf launched a survey aimed at finding out. 

The doctors and scientists surveyed supported the maintaining of social distancing rules and the ban on public gatherings - this was shown by the interim results from the survey. The answers of 178 respondents were evaluated and compared with the responses of 197 persons questioned in a first round of the survey. Experts with degrees in virology, microbiology, hygiene, tropical medicine, immunology, internal medicine and intensive care took part in the anonymous online survey. The results may be seen as a reflection of opinion in Germany at the current time. 

The survey was conducted by a team headed by Professor Michael Schindler (Virology, Tübingen) and Professor Steffen Moritz (Psychiatry, Hamburg) and was sponsored by the Gesellschaft für Virologie (GfV), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Hygiene und Mikrobiologie (DGHM), and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Innere Medizin (DGIM). 

Initial results of an interim evaluation

The current survey shows that more than 70 percent of the respondents approved of, and even favored, the 2-meter distance rule and the ban on public gatherings as potential measures for monitoring and containing SARS-CoV-2. By contrast, only a small proportion viewed closing schools and kindergartens as an important measure (less than 5 percent). The responses regarding the usefulness of covering the mouth and nose were ambivalent, however.

Approval of the measures brought in by the German government has fallen and is currently at just 50.1 percent; in the first round of the survey in March, approval was 80.7 percent.

The role of the media is increasingly seen as critical - only 59 percent saw the media as neutral (79.7 percent in the first round of the survey). The experts’ estimation of the virus’s course and severity had changed little or not at all. On average, they assume that up to 50 percent of the population will be infected with the Coronavirus. The experts are assuming that around 5 percent of patients will have to be treated in intensive care, with one percent dying of the virus. 

Contact

Tübingen University Hospitals
Institute of Medical Virology and Epidemiology of Viral Diseases
Molecular Virology
Professor Dr. Michael Schindler
michael.schindlerspam prevention@med.uni.tuebingen.de

16.04.2020: Development of a virus vector-based vaccine

Tübingen immunologists Ralf Amann, Ferdinand Salomon and Melanie Müller of the Interfaculty Institute of Cell Biology (IFIZ) at the University of Tübingen are working with innovative platform technology to develop a vaccine against the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. They insert coronavirus antigens into a virus vector that is harmless to humans. Injection of this virus vector does not cause the disease in humans, but instead triggers an immune reaction that is intended to protect against severe illness in the event of a subsequent infection. Various antigens may be introduced into the virus vector. Such a vaccine could therefore also provide protection against mutations of SARS-CoV-2 as well as against other coronaviruses. Germany’s Economics Ministry has put up additional funding of 1.3 million euros for the project; and the Carl Zeiss Foundation has made a further 150,000 euros available. The three researchers founded Prime Vector Technologies GmbH in October 2019.

27.03.2020: Clinical study for the testing of Hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19

On 27 March 2020, Tübingen’s Institute of Tropical Medicine, working with the Bernhard Nocht Institute of Tropical Medicine, the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf and the Robert Bosch Hospital in Stuttgart, started clinical trials under the title "Randomized controlled trial of hydroxychloroquine versus placebo for the treatment of adult patients with acute coronavirus disease 2019 - COVID-19." The study aims to clinically test the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Hydroxychloroquine has been used for many decades for treating and preventing autoimmune and infectious diseases; as yet, there is no proof of efficacy for COVID-19. The new study is supported by Germany’s Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and is a model of international cooperation, which is especially important in these times. In an example of this, the Vietnamese-German Center for Medical Research in Hanoi provided 6,000 swab tubes at short notice because these could not be obtained in Germany.

09.03.2020: Development and testing of a vaccine effective against COVID-19

An international consortium involving the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Travel Medicine and Human Parasitology at the University of Tübingen and the Tübingen University Hospitals has received an EU Horizon 2020 Grant for the development and testing of a vaccine against COVID-19 in clinical trials. The consortium also includes the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), the two companies AdaptVac and ExpreS2ion Biotechnologies (both in Denmark), the Department of Medical Microbiology at Leiden University Hospital (Netherlands) and the Laboratory of Virology at Wageningen University (Netherlands). The project partners are world leaders in their respective fields of research and cover all the relevant sub-areas of virus research and vaccine development necessary for the rapid clinical development of a vaccine against COVID-19.

Further research projects

03.06.2021 (Update): Effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on the wellbeing of children and teenagers

Countries around the world have taken drastic measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. They include the temporary closure of schools, kindergartens, sportsgrounds, playgrounds and social institutions, as well as a shift to forms of online learning within the framework of homeschooling. 

In a collaboration between Professor Dr. Sascha Neumann of the University of Tübingen Institute of Education (IfE) and the University of Luxembourg, an international study was launched on 07 May 2020 to investigate the effects of these measures on the wellbeing of children and teenagers, depending on their families’ socio-economic situation. The study’s goal is to obtain data on the short- and middle-term consequences for kids and young people which arise from the measures to contain the pandemic and which should be considered in future political decision-making. It is also expected that teachers and parents will be able to harness the results as key data forming the basis of appropriate responses to the social consequences for children and teenagers.

The study - COVID KIDS - Understanding the influence of COVID-19 on children’s and adolescents’ school experience and subjective well-being - is based on an online survey in five different languages (German, English, French, Luxemburgish, Portuguese), which was conducted in several countries. The survey directly addresses children and teenagers between the ages of 6 and 16. 

All interested children and teenagers are invited to take part in the anonymous survey!

Link to survey:

https://covid-kids-survey.uni.lu

Contact:

Professor Dr. Sascha Neumann
Institute of Education
Social Pedagogy
Email: Sascha.neumannspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de

05.01.2021: Face masks make it difficult to remember sentences heard

Face masks have become part of our everyday lives during the Covid-19 pandemic. Thanh Lan Truong, Dr. Sara Beck, and Prof. Dr. Andrea Weber from the English Department at the University of Tübingen have now investigated how wearing masks affects the encoding of linguistic information.

The study examined how much listeners can remember from sentences spoken in short videos by a speaker - both with and without a face mask. Lip and jaw movements contain linguistic information. Closed lips, for example, signal a bilabial place of articulation, as in the sounds /p/ or /m/. At the same time, jaw openness correlates with vowel height: wide open jaw for the vowel /a/ and more closed jaw for /i/. This visual speech information is complementary to the heard speech signal and is automatically integrated during speech processing. Facial masks now mask visual speech information and can thus make listening more difficult.

The study investigated whether - under these more difficult listening conditions - higher-level cognitive processes are negatively influenced, for example the encoding into memory of what is heard. For this purpose, the participants in the study watched video recordings of an adult speaker who spoke short sentences with and without a mask. After a block of sentences, the test subjects were shown the first part of the written sentence again and were asked to complete the sentences. This revealed that participants were able to complete significantly fewer words in the sentences when the speaker had worn a mask. The results are interpreted as evidence that masks make it more difficult to process speech and thus leave fewer cognitive resources available to remember what is heard.

“There is a direct relevance of the results for many everyday communication situations, from school to doctor's visits,” explains one of the authors of the study, Prof. Dr. Andrea Weber. “It was also interesting to us that the results were not due to lower intelligibility of the auditory speech signal with mask in itself, but that they were really due to the absence of visual information because of the mask. Our speaker had spoken clearly throughout, and the recordings were made in a sound-proofed room. In further tests, we found that under these conditions, the acoustic speech signal was hardly affected by the mask and listeners had no difficulty understanding the sentences. So it's possible that when intelligibility is more difficult, for example, due to background noise, tighter masking material, or large distances between speakers, the negative effects of masks on information retention are even stronger.”

Publication:

The study "Truong, T. L., Beck, S. D., & Weber, A.: The impact of face masks on the recall of spoken sentences." has been accepted for publication by the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. The study was sponsored by the German Research Foundation as a sub-project of the collaborative research center SFB 833 Construction of Meaning.

Further studies under way

Since submitting their results to the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, the three Tübingen researchers have collected additional data. For example, the original effect of masks on memory was replicated with a larger group of subjects and has since been confirmed with another speaker, in this case a nine-year-old child. Further studies are currently being conducted with a focus on the intelligibility of masked speakers in noisy environments.

Contact:

Thanh Lan Truong, M.A.
Institute of English Languages and Literatures
University of Tübingen
 07071/29-74285
thanh-lan.truongspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de 

Professor Dr. Andrea Weber
Institute of English Languages and Literatures
University of Tübingen
 07071/29-78464
andrea.weberspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de 

01.09.2020: Change in Occupational Recognition in the Context of the Corona Pandemic

Hardly any notion has shaped the discourse on re-opening businesses and institutions as well as everyday life (of work) in the corona crisis in Germany as much as the concept of "systemic relevance" of occupations. Which occupational activities are indispensable for a society? Who receives acclamatory applause and whose children are still entitled to go to daycare? And what about payment?

The research project “Change in Occupational Recognition in the Context of the Corona Pandemic”, led by Professor Dr. Martin Groß and Dr. Volker Lang at the University of Tübingen’s Institute of Sociology, is following up on these public discussions. It aims to answer two central questions:

  • How has recognition of different occupations changed in the course of the pandemic?
  • How do people in Germany respond with respect to corona measures?

Approach

First, the project aims to determine the perception of people's own occupational recognition and to examine potential changes in this perceived recognition against the background of the corona crisis. Do people who work in so-called systemically relevant jobs consider themselves to be more appreciated than before the crisis or, on the contrary, do they sense less recognition than before?

In a second step, the researchers focus on the question of whether the perceived recognition of one's own occupational activity has an effect on the approval of crisis management measures. Their main interest is to investigate the acceptance of infection protection measures (at the workplace). However, general political measures regarding economic redistribution, the promotion of economic activity or the restriction of fundamental rights are also considered.

And the approval of compliance measures in reaction to the pandemic as well as on socio-demographic characteristics is collected in these surveys.

In order to address these research questions empirically, two standardized online studies will be conducted. In the two surveys, approximately 3000 persons will be interviewed – a geographically as well as gender and age-quoted sample of the working population in Germany. Key information is collected in these surveys: the perception of occupational recognition, potential changes in this perception during the pandemic and the approval of compliance measures in response to the corona crisis as well as socio-demographic characteristics.

Project website: https://uni-tuebingen.de/en/197507 

Project lead

University of Tübingen
Institute of Sociology
Prof. Dr. Martin Groß
Dr. Volker Lang

Contact

Axel Babst
axel.babstspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de  

01.05.2020: What effect is the Coronavirus pandemic having on people with mental illnesses?

How are people with anxiety and depression managing their day-to-day lives amid the Coronavirus pandemic? How do those affected by eating or compulsive disorders, acoustic or optical hallucinations, or panic attacks deal with the pandemic? And how do those with mental illnesses generally fare in comparison with the rest of the population? This and other questions are being explored by the University of Tübingen working group in Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, headed by Professor Dr. Jennifer Svaldi in cooperation with the Universities of Münster and Osnabrück. More than 2000 people with and without mental disorders have voluntarily taken part in the online study.

Contact:

Professor Dr. Jennifer Svaldi
Department of Psychology
Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy
Email: jennifer.svaldispam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de

30.04.2020: Effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on high-performance sport

What are the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on high-performance sport? Researchers at the Sports Medicine section of the Tübingen University Hospitals are exploring that question, headed by Professor Dr. Christof Burgstahler. They have developed an online survey which is being publicized by four major German sports association and the state of Baden-Württemberg’s sports governing body. 

The survey has been available since 21 April for athletes to fill out anonymously. More than 600 sportsmen and 600 sportswomen did so in the first eight days alone. The respondents included 278 professional sportspersons, 471 top German athletes, and 564 top state athletes. 406 members of a national team are also in the group.

The initial results show that infection rates are not higher in high-performance sports. Nearly 97 percent of the respondents said in their first assessment that the crisis was having only a mild effect on their playing of their sport. The proportion of athletes who are worried about their health (33 percent) or sporting future (53 percent) was also large. Only 14 percent said they were concerned about their financial situation.

The survey was additionally launched in Austria at the start of May. The Tübingen Sports Medicine researchers will know next week if the results are similar there.

01.04.2020: Protective factors and physical health during the Covid-19 pandemic

For the majority of the population, the current Covid-19 pandemic is a big challenge and a burden. It has been empirically shown that measures such as quarantine and social distancing have manifold negative consequences on mental health - such as depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. At the same time, studies show the preventative effects of exercise and social support with regard to mental health problems. 

In this context, Sebastian Wolf (Institute of Psychology and Institute of Sports Science) and Professor Gorden Sudeck (Institute of Sports Science), are investigating the protective effects of regular physical activities and social support on various parameters such as anxiety, depression and sleep disorders as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Their longitudinal study will look at the influence of changes to these factors at three points in time. A further goal is to create an empirical basis for the quick development of online modules to promote exercise and social support. 

The study is conducted via an online questionnaire. Data is to be collected in: April, Mai/June and at the end of the pandemic.

01.04.2020: The influence of the Coronavirus crisis on earning expectations and the economy in the USA

In an international research project, Tübingen-based economist Professor Gernot Müller has surveyed 200 households in the USA every day since 10 March 2020 about their expectations and fears in the face of the coronavirus crisis. The project involves researchers from the Universities of Tübingen and Bonn in Germany, and Brandeis in the United States. Households are asked what effects they expect the coronavirus pandemic to have on GDP in the US, and on their personal income. They are also asked about their inflation expectations. At the same time, the researchers are monitoring whether the pandemic is influencing behavior - for example, whether households are savings more. A model analysis is then used to quantify the impact of these expectations on economic development in the United States.