Joining forces to tackle the crisis
Experts from Universitätsklinikum Erlangen are involved in seven projects in the university medicine research network (Netzwerk der Universitätsmedizin, NUM), which is receiving a total of 150 million euros in funding from the BMBF.
Experts from Universitätsklinikum Erlangen are involved in 7 of the 13 collaborative projects for which the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is providing funding totalling 150 million euros within the framework of the university medicine research network (Netzwerk der Universitätsmedizin, NUM). As announced by Federal Minister Anja Karliczek at a press conference on 1 October 2020, these 13 research collaborations will receive financial backing for a period of ten months in order to pursue their individual approaches for tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. The specialists from all 34 of the German university hospitals share the goal of working together to combat all aspects of the crisis. The interdisciplinary teams focus predominantly on the individual treatment of patients, optimising treatment options for a SARS-CoV-2 infection and supporting the development of immunisation procedures against the novel coronavirus.
NUM is a unique scientific project, as stressed by the Minister when it was launched at the end of March 2020. According to Anja Karliczek, the 34 German university hospitals have come together under one umbrella to pool their outstanding expertise and use it even better than they have done to date in order to rise to the greatest challenge Germany has faced since the end of the Second World War. In concrete terms this means, for example, that all university hospitals collect the data from their Covid-19 patients systematically and securely, before entering them in a joint database. By actively sharing knowledge and ideas, the researchers hope to rapidly improve care for people with a SARS-CoV-2 infection and protect medical personnel in the best possible way. The 13 funded collaborative projects were selected from hundreds of submitted proposals. NUM is being coordinated by Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin.
Experts from Universitätsklinikum Erlangen are involved in the following seven projects:
B-FAST – Surveillance and test strategy platform
The collaborative project B-FAST has the aim of developing a sustainable, scalable and transferable surveillance and testing strategy which will also be able to be used in future pandemics, and to test it in various areas of application. The task of the Erlangen-based project partner Prof. Dr. Klaus Überla (Director of the Institute of Clinical and Molecular Virology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen) is to develop standard reagents which allow the effectiveness of test systems from various manufacturers to be compared and harmonised across the board, irrespective of location. At the same time, Prof. Dr. Hans-Ulrich Prokosch (Chair of Medical Informatics at FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg and CIO of Universitätsklinikum Erlangen) is making data from Erlangen available for use on the NUM data platform.
COVIM – Immunology platform
COVIM focuses on understanding protective immunity against SARS-CoV-2, creating structures which allow immunological protective mechanisms to be used quickly and efficiently in clinical applications. Within the context of COVIM, the project partners based in Erlangen Prof. Dr. Hans-Martin Jäck (Head of the Molecular-Immunological Department at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen), Prof. Dr. Klaus Überla (Director of the Institute of Clinical and Molecular Virology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen) and Prof. Dr. Thomas Winkler (Professorship of Genetics at FAU) are working to accelerate the production of protective antibodies against new pathogens by vaccinating mice with a repertoire of human antibodies.
DEFEAT PANDEMICs – Autopsy platform
Autopsies conducted by pathologists have led to essential new findings on Covid-19. It was demonstrated that whilst specific underlying conditions are often associated with a serious form of the illness, the infection itself was the cause of death in most patients. The aim of DEFEAT PANDEMICs is to establish an autopsy network throughout Germany for the pandemic, in order to collect data, material and findings as fully, comprehensively and promptly as possible. Thanks to the network, standardised procedures will be developed which can subsequently be used to generate and distribute evidence for coping with epidemics and in support of crisis management. DEFEAT PANDEMICs is therefore making a valuable contribution to tackling the current Covid-19 pandemic and to being able to react rapidly to pandemics in the future. The Erlangen-based project partner is Prof. Dr. Arndt Hartmann (Director of the Institute of Pathology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen).
EViPan Unimed – Pandemic management
The aim of the EVIPan project is to protect the health of the workforce during the pandemic. Preventative measures should be taken to avoid losses in working time caused, for example, by employees falling ill from an infection or as a result of mental strain. In one of the sub-projects in this collaborative research project, Prof. Dr. (TR) Yesim Erim (Head of the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen) is leading the web-based survey on ‘Analysing mental health and standardised evaluation methods for ensuring an ability to work.’ A total of 8,000 people from the health sector took part in the study in the first stage, answering questions on their mental strain and sources of personal resilience. At the same time, aspects relating to striking a balance between work and family and situative work-place related stress were investigated.
FoDaPl – Research data platform
The research data platform (FoDaPl) represents a secure, extendible and interoperable platform for providing research data on Covid-19 which links all university hospitals across Germany. The aim is to provide scientists with structured and high-quality data, allowing innovative analyses to be made. Various data sources are to be used to create a pool of data which is available at short notice and meets requirements of research ethics (known as FAIR principles) and the EU General Data Protection Regulation. The data integration centres from the Medical Informatics Initiative (MII) will be used for this purpose, in particular a number of tools created in the MIRACUM consortium coordinated from Erlangen. It is hoped that the platform will help to answer complex research questions and support patient care. Within the context of this project, Prof. Dr. Hans-Ulrich Prokosch (Chair of Medical Informatics at FAU and CIO of Universitätsklinikum Erlangen) is responsible for coordinating the development and distribution of the decentralised components. Clinical and research data from Universitätsklinikum Erlangen will be collected predominantly by Department of Medicine 1– Gastroenterology, Pneumology and Endocrinology (director: Prof. Dr. Markus F. Neurath; deputy director: PD Dr. Richard Strauß; taskforce manager: PD Dr. Andreas Kremer).
PallPan – Palliative medicine
Care for the seriously ill and patients coming to the end of their lives is also important during a pandemic. In the current pandemic, this area tended to be neglected, and suitable care could only be offered with restrictions. PallPan will draw up recommendations which will allow us to be better prepared to cope in this area in future pandemic phases. Led by Prof. Dr. Christoph Ostgathe (Head of the Department of Palliative Medicine at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen), Universitätsklinikum is involved in a sub-project investigating the extent to which the care of seriously ill, dying and bereaved individuals with and without Covid-19 is taken into account in crisis taskforces. Prof. Ostgathe emphasises: ‘Palliative care does not end when a crisis begins. On the contrary: Needs increase. It is therefore important that taskforces also take palliative care into consideration.’
RACOON – Radiology platform
As lung infections progress, radiological imaging may have a decisive role to play in several different instances. The high level of availability and the rapid, reliable results mean that it has a key role to play in tackling the pandemic. Connecting the infrastructure of all university hospitals in a country in this way to track changes in lungs is unique throughout the world. Structured diagnoses, annotation and 3D segmentation significantly improve the quality of data, promising epidemiological findings, early recognition of hotspots and automatic assessment using artificial intelligence. This will allow us to understand and combat Covid-19 better, as well as helping us prepare to cope better with future threats. The Erlangen sub-project belonging to RACOON (Radiological COOperative Network) is led by Prof. Dr. Michael Uder (Director of the Institute of Radiology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen) and PD Dr. Matthias May (senior physician at the Institute of Radiology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen).
Detailed information of the national research network of university hospitals is available on its website: www.netzwerk-universitaetsmedizin.de
PD Dr. Andreas Kremer
Phone +49 9131 85 35000