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

Updated (11.02.2021): 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   

Updated (02.02.2021): Making corona viruses harmless with UV-C radiation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact:

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

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

Complement activation, thromboinflammation, and proinflammatory cytokines

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

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

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

Publication:

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

Contact:

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

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 

Updated (01.12.2020): The role of T-cells in SARS-CoV-2 virus defense/ Vaccination study with Tübingen-developed anti-Coronavirus vaccine

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)

Our immune system can efficiently fend off viral diseases. Two types of immune cells play an important role in this process: The 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 the immune defense against SARS-CoV-2 infection. Whereas antibody tests are already routinely performed, only little is known about the T-cell response against SARS-CoV-2 so far.

The research group of PD Dr. Juliane Walz at the Clinical Cooperation Unit Translational Immunology (KKE) of the University Hospital Tübingen and the Department of Immunology of the Interfaculty Institute for Cell Biology in Tübingen now succeeded in identifying the target structures (so-called T cell epitopes) for the T-cell response against SARS-CoV-2. For this work, now published in the renowned journal Nature Immunology, more than 180 volunteers were analyzed after convalescence from COVID-19. The T-cell epitopes identified in the study enabled the detection of SARS-CoV-2 T-cell responses in 100 percent of convalescent donors after infection. This was also true for patients in whom no antibody response could be detected.

Previous experience with two other corona viruses - SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV-2 - as well as initial reports from convalescents’ after COVID-19 suggests that T-cell responses may also play a significant role in the defense against SARS-CoV-2, as is the case with all other viral infections. To characterize these SARS-CoV-2-directed T-cell responses the identification of the parts of the virus, so-called epitopes, which are recognized by the T-cells is fundamental. "These epitopes are not only important for the investigation and diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 immunity, but may also represent the basis for the development of vaccines," says research group leader Juliane Walz.

In addition, the study, which was financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s special funding line COVID-19, analyzed donor blood samples which were collected before the outbreak of the pandemic and thus had no contact with SARS-CoV-2. Strikingly, small amounts of SARS-CoV-2-directed T-cells, which recognize virus components, were identified in 81 percent of these unexposed donors. This could be due to previous contact of the donors with other human common cold corona viruses (HCoV-OC43, HCoV-229E, HCoV-NL63 and HCoV- HKU1) and sequence similarities of the SARS-CoV-2 T-cell epitopes with these HCoVs.

However, such cross-reactive T-cell detection is not equivalent to immunity against SARS-CoV-2: "The effect these preexisting cross-reactive SARS-CoV-2 T-cell responses in 81 percent of the population will be investigated further prospective studies," commented Juliane Walz.

Based on the findings of this study, the team of KKE (Medical Director: Prof. Dr. Helmut Salih) together with the Immunology (Director: Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Rammensee) is currently developing a first clinical study, which will investigate a prophylactic vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, consisting of the here identified T-cell epitopes. This approach, which primarily aims at inducing T-cell responses against SARS-CoV-2, is further supported by first "long-term data" of Walz research group. First unpublished data of a follow-up study of the COVID-19 convalescent cohort - now six months after infection – still detects strong and even increasing T-cell responses against SARS-CoV-2, whereas the antibody responses, especially against the so-called spike protein, already showed a significant decrease.

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

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

Media 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
pressespam prevention@med.uni-tuebingen.de 

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 

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   

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   

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  

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.

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.

Clinical testing of a potential vaccine developed by the CureVac company against Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

With the support of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the Tübingen-based company CureVac AG is working on the development of a vaccine against the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The Institute of Tropical Medicine, Travel Medicine and Human Parasitology at the University of Tübingen and the Tübingen University Hospitals will carry out the first clinical trials of the potential vaccine developed in this research project. 

The biopharmaceutical company CureVac was established with sponsorship from the University of Tübingen and is a pioneer in the preclinical and clinical development of mRNA-based drugs and vaccines. CEPI is a public-private partnership for accelerating the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and is co-funded by Germany’s Ministry of Education and Research.

The agreement builds on the existing partnership between CureVac and CEPI to develop a rapidly deployable vaccine platform. It includes up to 8.3 million US dollars in funding from CEPI for accelerated vaccine development, manufacturing and clinical trials.

Potential target discovered in the fight against Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

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 2019-nCOV 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. 

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.

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 

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.

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

Further research projects

New (05.01.21): 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 

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  

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.

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.

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.

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

Effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on the wellbeing of children and teenagers

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

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

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

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

Link to survey:

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

Contact:

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