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 

09.03.2021: New study shows COVID-19 vaccinations beneficial prior to operations

To address the increased risk of mortality during surgical procedures among patients infected with coronavirus, the COVIDSurg research network conducted a new study. As part of this international modeling study, the research team, which includes the Department of General, Visceral and Transplant Surgery at Tübingen University Hospitals, has demonstrated the benefit of COVID-19 vaccination prior to surgical procedures. The results represent a strong argument for COVID-19 vaccination prioritization before urgently needed but schedulable surgeries.

Uninfected patients should be vaccinated against COVID-19 before surgery to reduce the postoperative risk of death associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection. This is supported by a study by the COVIDSurg research network, currently published in the British Journal of Surgery. According to the study, people awaiting scheduled but necessary surgery should receive their vaccination against COVID-19 earlier than the current vaccination schedule. The University Department of General Surgery in Tübingen was also involved in this international modeling study, for which data from more than 56,000 patients was evaluated.

The study shows that 0.6 percent to 1.6 percent of patients worldwide became infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus during or shortly after scheduled surgery. For such patients, the risk of mortality during the first month after surgery is increased by four to eight times. The mortality rate increases in particular for older people aged 70 and over, where a mortality rate of twelve percent can be expected; and it is even higher after surgery for cancer.

Given these risks, the researchers calculated the potential benefit of COVID-19 vaccination for individuals ahead of planned surgeries. In particular, deaths could be avoided by prioritizing older patients in whom surgery for malignant tumors can be postponed or who are over 70 years of age. According to these calculations, based on 2020 averaged global incidence rates, a total of 1,840 individuals over the age of 70 would need to be vaccinated, but in contrast, only 351 patients of the same age would need to receive vaccination prior to tumor surgery to prevent one COVID-19-related death each.

The authors estimate that global vaccination prioritization of patients before surgical procedures would result in about 60,000 fewer deaths worldwide. Especially in low- or lower-middle-income countries, where measures to contain the virus (such as smear screening, etc.) cannot be implemented across the board, this strategy would result in fewer severe illnesses and deaths. Since many scheduled surgeries have already been postponed or canceled worldwide since the beginning of the current pandemic, the safe care of surgical patients remains an important challenge. Prioritizing these very patients for COVID-19 vaccination could thus help to safely work through scheduled but necessary surgeries. Particularly in regions of the world where COVID-19 vaccine shortages are likely to persist for a long time, prioritization of high-risk groups would be an important measure. "Ensuring surgical care worldwide is a very important task for us as physicians and scientists. More than 15,000 colleagues from 116 countries have therefore contributed to this study, which represents an unprecedented level of collaboration," said Professor Alfred Königsrainer, Clinical Director of the study in Tübingen and Medical Director of the University Department of General, Visceral and Transplant Surgery. "Corresponding data should therefore be taken up by policy makers to prioritize surgical patients for COVID-19 vaccination and to safely work through the backlog of scheduleable surgeries."

Title of original publication

SARS-CoV-2 vaccination modelling for safe surgery to save lives: data from an international prospective cohort study - COVIDSurg Collaborative; https://doi.org/10.1093/bjs/znab101

About the research network COVIDSurg

The COVIDSurg Collaborative is a research network investigating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on surgical care. The network now involves more than 15,000 doctors and researchers from more than 100 countries around the world. COVIDSurg conducted one of the largest observational studies to date in October 2020, titled COVIDSurg-Week, on surgical risks associated with coronavirus infections, while collecting comparative surgical data and quality indicators to help compare and improve surgical care worldwide in the future (https://globalsurg.org/surgweek/). 

The first groundbreaking findings on the risks of surgical interventions in patients with coronavirus infections could already be published by the COVIDSurg research network in May 2020 in the journal The Lancet: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31182-X. In addition, an article on the question of when schedulable surgical procedures can be safely performed again after coronavirus infection was recently published in the journal Anaesthesia: https://doi.org/10.1111/anae.15458.

The people involved

Prof. Dr. Alfred Königsrainer and Dr. Markus Quante are the clinical study directors in Tübingen who, together with other colleagues, conduct the COVIDSurg studies and are involved in this worldwide initiative.

Dr. Markus Löffler is a member of the national steering committee of the COVIDSurg Collaborative and supports the initiative and study implementation in Germany.

Contact:

Tübingen University Hospitals
Clinic for General, Visceral and Transplant Surgery
Professor Dr. Alfred Königsrainer
 +49 7071 29-86620
alfred.koenigsrainerspam prevention@med.uni-tuebingen.de

Clinic for General, Visceral and Transplant Surgery
Dr. Markus Löffler
 +49 7071 29 80992
​​​​​​​markus.loeffler@med.uni-tuebingen.de 

University of Birmingham 
COVIDSurg at the University of Birmingham
Tony Moran
Director of international communication ​​​​​​​
 +44 782 783 2312 bzw. +44 7789 921 165 (switchboard)
​​​​​​​t.moran@bham.ac.uk ​​​​​​​

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   

22.01.2021: Covid-19: Loss of sense of smell

Study nominated anatomical society’s Paper of the Month (POM) for January 2021

Scientists from the Institute of Neuroanatomy and Developmental Biology at the University of Tübingen have published the article "Evidence of SARS-CoV2 Entry Protein ACE2 in the Human Nose and Olfactory Bulb" in the journal Cells Tissues Organs at the beginning of 2021. The authors also submitted their findings on olfactory sensory cells in the olfactory epithelium to the Anatomical Society. The society selected this publication as the January 2021 Paper of the Month (POM). 

Using classical anatomical techniques, this work provides evidence that the ACE2 and TMPRSS2 proteins are expressed in the respiratory epithelium (ciliated epithelium) of the human nose, in the olfactory epithelium, and in the olfactory bulb, but only in the supporting and glandular cells and not in the olfactory sensory cells. These results suggest that the loss of the sense of smell (anosmia) is not associated with damage to the olfactory sensory cells, but that the function of the supporting and glandular cells is disturbed and thus the sense of smell is impaired.

Stefanie Klingenstein

Publication

Evidence of SARS-CoV2 Entry Protein ACE2 in the Human Nose and Olfactory Bulb
Moritz Klingenstein, Stefanie Klingenstein, Peter H. Neckel, Andreas F. Mack, Andreas P. Wagner, Alexander Kleger, Stefan Liebau, Alfio Milazzo
in: Cells Tissues Organs https://doi.org/10.1159/000513040

Contact:

Stefanie Klingenstein
Tübingen University Hospitals
Institute of Neuroanatomy and Developmental Biology
stefanie.klingensteinspam 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 

29.09.2020: Tübingen study: Intensive treatment of Covid-19

Multicentric data collection 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​​​​​​

22.09.2020: Making coronaviruses 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. 

Publications:

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 school experience and the subjective wellbeing of children and teenagers

Countries around the world have taken drastic measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. These 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 cooperation 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 07.05.2020 which investigated the effects of these measures on the wellbeing of children and teenagers, depending on their families’ socio-economic situation. The study’s goal was 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 decisionmaking. It was 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 - was based on an online survey in five different languages (German, English, French, Luxemburgish, Portuguese), and was conducted in several countries. The survey directly addressed children and teenagers between the ages of 6 and 16.

You can listen to a lecture on the issue here.

A report on the Luxembourg results of the study is available here.

An article from the University of Tübingen research magazine attempto! is available here.

Publications:

  • Pascale M.J. Engel de Abreu, Sascha Neumann, Cyril Wealer, Neander Abreu, Elizeu Coutinho Macedo, Claudine Kirsch (2021). Subjective Well-Being of Adolescents in Luxembourg, Germany, and Brazil During the COVID-19 Pandemic. In: Journal of Adolescent Health 68, 8.
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2021.04.028 
  • Kirsch, C., Engel de Abreu, P. M.J., Neumann, S. Wealer, C. (2021). Practices and experiences of distant education during the COVID-19 pandemic: The perspectives of six- to sixteen-year-olds from three high-income countries. In: International Journal of Educational Research Open 2, 2.
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedro.2021.100049 

Contact:

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

19.05.2021: First lockdown: One-third of all schoolchildren had no contact with their schools

Around 30 percent of all students in Germany had no regular contact with their schools during the first Coronavirus-related school closures in spring 2020. Rural regions in particular failed to maintain contact. Furthermore, only around 25 percent of students in rural regions of Germany received learning materials as part of online lessons during the school closure - in cities, the figure was around 60 percent. These are the findings of the "Leadership in German Schools (LineS)" school leadership study, which is representative of Germany and is being conducted jointly by researchers from the universities of Tübingen and Lüneburg and the FHNW teacher training college in Switzerland.

The Coronavirus crisis caught schools in Germany unprepared and presented them with new challenges. Above all, repeated closures and the suspension of in-class teaching meant that many students lost contact with their teachers. In addition, new forms of learning and teaching had to be introduced at short notice.

The study surveyed a total of 306 randomly selected principals at general education schools between April and June 2020. As they reported, only around three out of four schoolchildren (71 percent) in Germany had regular contact with their school, i.e. at least once a week, during the school closures in spring 2020. In rural regions (schools located in places with fewer than 3,000 inhabitants), only three out of five students (60 percent) had regular contact.

Communication with students mostly took place in direct exchange with their teachers (89 percent), for example via telephone, a messenger service or by providing material on learning platforms (75 percent). Learning together in small groups (41 percent) or even in class (33 percent), on the other hand, took place quite rarely during the school closures in spring 2020. In this respect, there are clear differences between schools in rural and urban areas. In rural regions, for example, learning together in small groups took place in only 19 percent of all schools, and learning together in classes in only 16 percent of all schools.

Clear differences during the first nationwide school closures in spring 2020 can be found with regard to teaching. While around 60 percent of all schools in cities and metropolitan areas offered learning materials as part of online teaching, only 27 percent of schools in rural areas chose this route. Instead, they served students primarily by providing learning materials before school closures (88 percent) and by providing materials during school closures (74 percent).

Nationwide, school administrators across all regions report a lack of the necessary electronic equipment in schools and homes, which has had a very negative impact on distance learning. "The extent to which schools have managed to learn from last year's situation for the recent school closures in 2021 will have to be shown in a follow-up study," says Prof. Dr. Colin Cramer, who is overseeing the study at the University of Tübingen. A corresponding study, which is expected to take place in the summer or autumn of 2021, is in preparation, he adds.

Study background

The results are part of a supplement to the Leadership in German Schools (LineS) study being conducted by the Universities of Tübingen (Prof. Dr. Colin Cramer and Dr. Jana Groß Ophoff) and Lüneburg (PD Dr. Marcus Pietsch) and the FHNW teacher training college in Switzerland (Prof. Dr. Pierre Tulowitzki). From April to June 2020, the data evaluated here were collected during the nationwide school closures in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic among 306 randomly selected school principals at general education schools by forsa GmbH, using an online questionnaire. The data and analyses are part of a larger representative study that began in 2019 among school principals in Germany. Of 405 school principals surveyed in 2019, 218 principals were reached again. Their data were supplemented by a further 88 data sets from additional school principals recruited for the survey.

Download information

A brief report on the study with additional information and graphics for further use are available to download at: https://www.doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/VWDB8  

Contact:

Professor Dr. Colin Cramer
University of Tübingen
Institute of Education
Colin.cramerspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de 

12.05.2021: Everyone benefited from the upswing before the Coronavirus: Tübingen economic study on the German government's poverty report

Tübingen economic study on the German government's poverty report: Net income increased by 2020 - still little change in income distribution

The long-lasting upswing in the labor market after 2005 brought financial gains above all to the lower income brackets in society and contributed to a more even distribution of income. However, these effects were counteracted by other developments, such as increased immigration after 2010 and greater differentiation in society according to educational qualifications and work experience. This was shown by economists from Tübingen in a study for the German government’s current Poverty and Wealth Report. The accompanying studies on which the report is based have been published on the German Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs website.

A study by researchers at the University of Tübingen and the Tübingen Institute for Applied Economic Research (IAW) for the German government's 6th Poverty and Wealth Report shows: The labor market upswing after 2005 resulted in significant income gains across broad segments of the income distribution. The employment upswing was driven by rising full-time employment among both men and women, but to an even greater extent by rising part-time employment among women. 

This long-lasting development was only halted by the Coronavirus crisis. It led to real income growth of three to five percent at the bottom end of the distribution, but only one to two percent at the middle to top end. This is a net effect - the calculation takes into account the fact that people who would have been unemployed if the upswing had not materialized would have been entitled to payments from unemployment and basic benefits.

In addition to the positive effects of the upswing, the study shows the strong stabilizing effect of the German tax and social security system, mitigating both the consequences of economic downturns and the effects of economic upswings on net disposable income. "Our results show that even if all the employment gains of the upswing were reversed by the Coronavirus crisis, this would have only a limited impact on income distribution due to the strong social security system," says Martin Biewen, professor of economics at the University of Tübingen and one of the study’s authors. However, this applies with limitations, Biewen said. "Groups particularly affected by the Coronavirus crisis, such as the self-employed and marginally employed, are protected to a lesser extent by the social security system."

Despite the significant upswing leading up to the Coronavirus crisis, net income inequality changed only marginally - this is due to other factors whose influence the authors also examined. For example, they show that inequality increased due to greater immigration since 2010 and greater differentiation in society according to education and work experience. This development even partly outweighed the favorable effects of the employment upswing, but was again mitigated by individual policy measures such as the introduction of the extended maternity pension and child benefit increases. 

No demonstrable influence on income inequality was exerted by changes in the level of wages or in capital income, nor by the trend toward more single-person households. Taken together, all the developments considered meant that net income inequality and the poverty risk ratio were slightly higher at the peak of the labor market upswing than at its beginning.

The Tübingen study is part of the German government's Poverty and Wealth Report, which is published once every legislative period. The study is part of an extensive expertise, which was written in cooperation with the ifo Institute in Munich. The Poverty and Wealth Report is based on extensive accompanying research that deals with a wide range of topics related to income and wealth distribution and social mobility. 

https://www.armuts-und-reichtumsbericht.de  
https://www.armuts-und-reichtumsbericht.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/Service/Studien/1-studie-iaw-ifo-tuebingen.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=3  

Contact: 

Professor Dr. Martin Biewen
University of Tübingen
School of Business and Economics
Martin.biewenspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de 

Rolf Kleimann
Institute for Applied Economic Research, IAW
rolf.kleimannspam prevention@iaw.edu  

05.05.2021: How the pandemic changed students’ nightlife

Socially and economically severely restricted: Research project surveys Tübingen students and stakeholders in the night economy on the situation

Closed bars, hardly meeting any friends and no part-time jobs - In the pandemic, the situation of students has deteriorated significantly, both socially and economically. Students of Economic Geography at the University of Tübingen are conducting a representative survey to find out what the current state of nightlife in Tübingen is like. Under the direction of Professor Sebastian Kinder, they surveyed 1243 Tübingen students online between December 2020 and January 2021. In addition, qualitative interviews were conducted with stakeholders in Tübingen's nightlife and the “night economy” - including owners of clubs and bars, representatives of the city of Tübingen, and regulatory authorities.

The project seminar presented the results in an online event on May 4. Download at https://publikationen.uni-tuebingen.de/xmlui/handle/10900/53309.

Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly reduced and altered student nightlife activity, according to the study authors. Students were out at night less than once a month during the spring 2020 and winter 2020-21 lockdowns, down from more than seven evenings before the pandemic. The average group size also decreased significantly; large groups became rare. Alternatively, students increasingly relied on new forms of social interaction, trying out digital formats such as video conferencing and online game nights.

Still, more than 97 percent of respondents said they felt constrained by the pandemic. More than 66 percent described the restrictions as severe. "Nightlife plays an important role for students. It suffers greatly due to the pandemic and cannot be adequately replaced," said Professor Sebastian Kinder.
Because of the situation, more than 90 percent of students reduced their monthly nightlife spending during the pandemic, 73 percent of them sharply. However, this did not necessarily mean more money in their pockets, because at the same time they had to compensate for loss of income. For example, those students who worked part-time in restaurants, bars or clubs currently have an average of 100 euros less available each month.

Providers in the night-time economy sector have been hard hit by the economic consequences of the pandemic. As a result of the closures of restaurants, bars and clubs, they are experiencing considerable losses in income and are complaining about problems with state aid. The measures taken by the city of Tübingen, on the other hand, are expressly praised. "The multifaceted interconnections of nightlife extend far beyond simply going out in the evening and affect students and the city in a variety of ways," says Jan Kosok, co-leader of the project.

Spatially, nightlife has shifted outdoors whenever possible. The main focus is on the Alte Botanische Garten, the Holzmarkt and the Neckarinsel. By contrast, Mühlstrasse, Haaggasse and other areas of the Old Town are much less frequented than before the pandemic. At the same time, however, there are indications that nightlife may now take place more often in private spaces. This fits with warnings from the Society for Aerosol Research that the real risk of contagion comes from what happens indoors, the authors say. "In further planning of pandemic measures, such scenarios should be critically considered and included."

The evaluation of the surveys was carried out by students under the guidance of Professor Kinder and his staff as part of a project seminar. "I have learned a great deal from the project and the situation. The changes in nightlife affect me in my everyday life and I now feel the affectedness of the providers more clearly," student Daniela Schröder sums up.

The Chair of Economic Geography focuses its research on evolutionary economic geography, transformation research and industrial change. The regional focus of the research work is on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well as East and Southeast Asia.

Contact:

Professor Dr. Sebastian Kinder
University of Tübingen
Economic Geography
 +49 7071 29-73938
Sebastian.kinderspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de  

08.04.2021: If Sweden had imposed a lockdown: 75 percent fewer infections, 38 percent fewer deaths

Economists from Tübingen analyzed how a lockdown in Sweden would have affected the incidence of infection

Unlike many countries, Sweden chose not to impose quarantine measures on its population in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, an approach which led to much discussion. Sweden did, however, pursue its own plan to contain the infection using individual measures, such as a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, social distancing, and travel restrictions. Tübingen economists Alexander Dietrich and Gernot Müller from International Macroeconomics and Finance, and Benjamin Born from the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management examined the case of Sweden. They wanted to find out how a quarantine there would have affected the spread of infections, the behavior of society and the number of deaths. For comparison with developments in the real Sweden, the authors developed a “doppelganger” - an alternative scenario of Sweden with quarantine measures. After analyzing data collated up to and including 1 September 2020, the authors come to the conclusion that quarantine measures in Sweden would have significantly reduced the impact on the number of infections and the number of deaths caused by COVID19. The study was published in April 2021 in the journal PLoS ONE.

Interview with Professor Gernot Müller

What are the most important results of your study?

Our study shows that a lockdown in Sweden would have reduced the number of infections by 75 percent and the number of deaths by 38 percent in the period studied - from spring to autumn 2020. That would have been 2,000 fewer deaths by the end of August 2020.

In the case of infections, however, the effect only begins to show with a delay of three to four weeks after the start of the lockdown, and in the case of deaths correspondingly later still. This is remarkable in that the method is particularly good at estimating short-term effects. As time progresses, factors other than the imposed lockdown may also play a role.

Another result: The economic costs of a lockdown would have been relatively low in Sweden. For this purpose, we compared the economic development for Sweden and the synthetic double - measured by the change in gross domestic product. We have two explanations for this: First, Swedish economic output has declined significantly even without a lockdown, because Sweden's economy is not autonomous but closely intertwined with the global economy. A lockdown would have only slightly increased this decline. The second explanation has to do with behavioral adjustments and is therefore particularly interesting for us economists: Based on the evaluation of Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, we were able to determine that Swedes voluntarily adjusted their behavior and reduced their contacts even without a lockdown. This also reduced Sweden's economic output, so the additional effect of a real lockdown would also have been small.

What factors did you use in constructing the double used in the model? 

We developed a synthetic double for Sweden based on a reference group of 13 comparable European countries - a counterfactual "Sweden in lockdown" scenario. To do this, we chose a simple statistical method: the synthetic control method, which is very commonly used in the social sciences. On Day 1, this double must have exactly the same initial situation as Sweden. "Day 1" in our study refers to the day on which at least one person per million inhabitants was infected in a country. 

The most important factors in creating our doppelganger were the infection incidence in the first thirteen days after "day 1," country size (population size), population density (urbanicity ratio), and demographics: what is the population proportion of people over 65? Thus, as a result, our double is composed of the following countries in the reference group: 30.0% Denmark, 25.8% Netherlands, 25.3% Finland, 15.0% Norway, and 3.9% Spain. We were then able to compare the development of infection rates and deaths for Sweden and the counterfactual scenario. 

Why did you focus on infection numbers in one variant and deaths in the other?

The reviewers from PLoS ONE first wanted us to include the demographic aspect in our study so that our synthetic double would also be as meaningful as possible with regard to the vulnerable group of people over 65 years of age. The second criticism of the reviewers was that the exact number of infections is difficult to determine because it depends on the number of tests. Therefore, at their suggestion, we created an alternative scenario focusing on death counts. Here, the composition of the double changes, but the basic results of the two approaches - in terms of the effect of the lockdown - are very close.

To what extent can you derive general statements about the effectiveness of a lockdown from this?

Our study shows that a lockdown is an appropriate means of containing an infection event. 

However, lockdown is not a miracle cure for quick effects. Rather, the effects only become apparent after a delay of three to four weeks. At the end of October 2020, we had a discussion in Germany about a "breakwater lockdown," a short hard lockdown to stop the infection process. Our analysis argues against the effect of such a breakwater lockdown, the counterfactual scenario for Sweden rather suggests a longer lockdown of eight to ten weeks is needed to contain the infection event.

Our study did not consider the social costs of a lockdown; these would have to be weighed separately.

Do you plan to continue the study or to conduct further studies?

In a new project on lockdown, we are looking - albeit using different methods - at how lockdown affects the case fatality rate, i.e. the proportion of people with COVID-19 who die from this disease. For this purpose, we compared European countries as well as US states with each other. The initial results indicate that the case fatality rate actually increases as a result of a lockdown, although the absolute number of people infected with and dying from COVID-19 decreases at the same time. 

In another study on the topic of "opening under security," we are working with my colleague Professor Klaus Wälde from the University of Mainz to examine the "Tübingen Model," which made headlines across Germany in the spring.

The interview with Gernot Müller was conducted by Maximilian von Platen.

Study "The lockdown effect: A counterfactual for Sweden."

Benjamin Born, Alexander Dietrich, Gernot Müller GJ: The lockdown effect: A counterfactual for Sweden. In : PLoS ONE 16(4): e0249732. April 8, 2021. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0249732 

Contact:

Professor Dr. Gernot Müller
Economics and Social Sciences
School of Business and Economics
International Macroeconomics and Finance
 +49 7071 29-74141
gernot.muellerspam prevention@uni-tuebingen.de 

Graphical representation of the research results with a comparison of the actual situation in Sweden (in blue) with the counterfactual scenario "Sweden with lockdown" (red). Top left: Infections; bottom left: Deaths, after logarithmic transformation. The pink area represents the lockdown phase in "Sweden with lockdown". The gray area corresponds to two standard errors of the difference between Sweden and its counterfactual double before lockdown. Right: Difference between Sweden and comparison group in thousands. Specification A (blue): basic model; red line represents alternative specifications.

01.04.2021: Twitter as a counseling medium during Coronavirus school closings

Study by the University of Tübingen shows potential of online communities and reveals deficits of the digitization process in schools

Teachers made greater use of social media platforms such as Twitter as a source of information and training during school closures due to the Coronavirus pandemic. They networked in the online community and exchanged ideas about the challenges of transitioning to digital instruction. The most pressing issues were good digital teaching, the lack of software, and insufficient digital know-how. At the same time, the Twitter posts highlighted the deficits in the education system in terms of digital equipment and the teaching of relevant skills to teachers. This was the conclusion reached by researchers from the Hector Research Institute of Education  Sciences and Psychology at the University of Tübingen, the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media Tübingen and the Center for Education Science at the University of Tübingen. Their findings are published in the Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft .

Among other things, more than 21,000 posts (tweets) from several thousand users in the period from January 6 to June 3, 2020, which were published under the hashtags #twitterlehrerzimmer or #twlz, were evaluated. Hashtags can be treated like keywords; they also connect members of a community. Computational linguistic methods were used to determine the topics of the tweets, as well as the reactions they elicited, for example, if they were forwarded particularly frequently, received strong approval, or were discussed intensively.

It became apparent that the topics before and during the school closures differed little and that the Twitter teachers' room was already being used before the school closures for exchange and networking with regard to digital teaching. It can be assumed that digitally supported teaching in Germany before the Coronavirus pandemic had previously been left mainly to those media enthusiasts who had become involved in the subject matter, for example, out of personal conviction. During the school closures, the number of tweets increased as expected and the topic became even more prominent. Before the school closures, there was more of a desire for change, expressed by the words education emergency and education revolution, which were frequently used together. During the school closures, the unknown situation of digital distance learning was discussed. For example, the buzzword homeschooling was used in combination with words like media literacy, and the focus was on the tools that make digital teaching possible.

To find out which challenges and opportunities were addressed in the Twitter teachers' room during the school closures, those tweets that generated the greatest response were analyzed in terms of their content - they received many likes and were frequently shared or commented on. The three most pressing challenges cited were the design of good digital instruction, the lack of software for digital teaching and learning, and insufficient digital know-how to deliver digital instruction. The top three opportunities presented were opportunities for networking and sharing, offering digital materials, and offering tips and explanations. These offers were also the most frequently disseminated.

"This can be interpreted as an indication of the great need for materials, software, and tips and explanations on how to use and implement them in digital lessons," explains Dr. Tim Fütterer of the Hector Research Institute of Education  Sciences and Psychology and lead author of the study. For example, a tweet introducing a free geography app was shared most often. The most discussed issues were the high workload caused by the switch to distance learning and the lack of software.

"Education policymakers could use social media platforms like Twitter to get a sense of pressing issues in real time," Fütterer says. However, the researcher cautions that teachers active in the Twitter teachers' room community are likely to be characterized by high media affinity. “But this limitation also raises fears that the deficits regarding digitalization in schools that came to light in our study are even greater,” he says.

Publication:

Fütterer, T., Hoch, E., Stürmer, K., Lachner, A., Fischer, C., & Scheiter, K. (2021). Was bewegt Lehrpersonen während der Schulschließungen? – Eine Analyse der Kommunikation im Twitter-Lehrerzimmer über Chancen und Herausforderungen digitalen Unterrichts. Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft. Download the article: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11618-021-01013-8  

Contact:

Dr. Tim Fütterer
University of Tübingen
Hector Institute of Education Science
 +49 7071 29 76566
tim.fuettererspam 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 

01.01.2021: From the Coronavirus crisis to a crisis of confidence? How political action influences assessments of social cohesion

As part of an evaluation project in the SOEP-CoV study (further information at: www.soep-cov.de), researchers from the University of Tübingen’s Sociology institute (Dr. Volker Lang and Prof. Martin Groß) cooperated with researchers at the DIW Berlin and Universität Bielefeld (Dr. Simon Kühne and Marvin Bürmann).

Social policy is intended not least as a form of institutionalized solidarity to help overcome social crises. Crisis situations such as the Coronavirus pandemic show the extent to which state regulations fulfill this solidarity function. Moreover, experienced and perceived solidarity are important determinants of individual evaluations of social cohesion in societies. Following on from this, the project investigated the extent to which evaluations of political measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic influenced assessments of social cohesion in Germany.

Initial analyses using SOEP-CoV data representative of Germany show that concerns about social cohesion declined during the 1st wave phase of the Coronavirus in spring 2020 compared to the period before, and more positive perceptions of political action to contain the pandemic as well as of the state of the health and economic system led to greater confidence in social cohesion - also controlling for concerns about one's own health and financial situation. Furthermore, the evaluation of political crisis management during the pandemic was shown to play a key moderating role with respect to the relationship between concerns about economic development and evaluations of social cohesion.

In perspective, the second survey wave of the SOEP-CoV study in 2021 also brought into focus the question of the temporal stability of the observed correlations over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Project managers

University of Tübingen
Institute of Sociology
Professor Dr. Martin Groß
Dr. Volker Lang
martin.grossspam 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.

Further information

Hygiene concept of the University of Tübingen under pandemic conditions