Press release

01.10.2020

Joining forces to fight COVID-19

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Academic Research Network with five projects led or co-led by Charité

Initiated and coordinated by CharitéUniversitätsmedizin Berlin, the new national academic research network dedicated to COVID-19 (Forschungsnetzwerk der Universitätsmedizin zu Covid-19) combines and enhances existing strengths. The aim is to optimize the speed at which knowledge about this new disease becomes available. The infrastructure for a nationally coordinated program of COVID-19 research is now in place. 13 large collaborative projects have been designed, which will be conducted under the leadership of different university hospitals. Charité will lead on two of these large projects and act as co-lead on a further three. Researchers from CharitéUniversitätsmedizin Berlin will also make major contributions to a further seven collaborations. The research network has been allocated a total of €150 million in funding by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Preventing infections, optimizing patient care, and safeguarding health care services. The COVID-19 pandemic has been characterized by the need to implement strategy switches at very short notice. Researchers from across 36 university hospitals have joined forces to pool and strengthen relevant research efforts. Charité will act as the central coordinating hub for the new academic research network, which is also known as ‘Netzwerk Universitätsmedizin’ (literally Network of University Medicine) or NUM. Co-initiator of the NUM and Charité’s Chief Executive Officer, Prof. Dr. Heyo K. Kroemer, said: “As part of this initiative, which brings together nearly all German university hospitals as well as other networks, researchers will be working across partner sites to optimize treatment options, to address issues from the fields of health services research and pandemic response, and to develop evidence-based approaches. The guiding principle which underpins this endeavor is what sets this initiative apart. The idea is to promote the involvement and collaboration of the largest possible number of stakeholders rather than encourage competition between individuals – because what we need now is prompt access to knowledge.”

The new academic research network promotes the systematic and comprehensive exchange of knowledge between research partners. In close consultation with the National Task Force (and coordinated by Charité), a total of more than 280 concepts submitted to the network have been organized into 13 large-scale projects. Individual project implementation plans take into account local research strengths at participating sites and aim to pool the relevant expertise from across the country. The consortia thus created are led by one or more of the participating sites. Five of these projects will see Charité either act as overall project lead or share this responsibility with other university hospitals. Charité will also have involvement in a further seven projects. These include the establishment of an emergency department registry, the design of testing strategies which take account of infection levels, and the development and refinement of specific apps.

The following collaborative projects are either led or co-led by Charité:

National COVID-19 Research Data Platform/Nationale Forschungsdatenplattform Covid-19 (FoDaPla)

COVID-19 research needs a comprehensive, standardized database to underpin research efforts on a wide range of issues. The aim of the project is to develop a nationwide, standardized and data protection-compliant infrastructure which enables the storage of COVID-19 research-related data sets. Plans include a centralized data platform, data collection tools, use and access protocols and a data trust. Lead Coordinator is Prof. Dr. Roland Eils, Founding Director of the Digital Health Center which is operated by the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité. He said: “We want to create an infrastructure capable of processing data from multiple COVID-19 research data sets, including clinical data, imaging data and biomaterials data, providing pseudonymized, patient-specific information to researchers across multiple sites. This infrastructure will be centrally available to all researchers and link up the various university hospitals.” The infrastructure for the research database platform is being provided by the German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (Deutsches Zentrum für Herz-Kreislauf-Forschung (DZHK) e.V.) and the Medical Informatics Initiative (die Medizininformatik-Initiative). The plan is to create a platform which can be further expanded and adapted for use during future pandemics.

Overall coordination: CharitéUniversitätsmedizin Berlin. Institutions involved: Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, Universitätsmedizin Greifwald, Universitätsklinikum Köln, Universitätsklinikum Schleswig-Holstein, Universitätsmedizin Göttingen, CharitéUniversitätsmedizin Berlin, Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, Universitätsmedizin Dresden, Universitätsmedizin Mannheim, Universitätsklinikum Leipzig, Universitätsklinikum Aachen, Universitätsklinikum Ulm, Universitätsklinikum Frankfurt, Universitätsklinikum Bonn, Ludwigs-Maximilian-Universität München, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Technische Universität München, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen. Non-university partners: Deutsches Zentrum für Herz-Kreislauf-Forschung (DZHK), Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung (DZIF), TMF e.V., Gesellschaft für wissenschaftliche Datenverarbeitung Göttingen GmbH (GWDG), Hochschule Heilbronn.

National Pandemic Cohort Network/Nationales Pandemie Kohorten Netz (NAPKON)

This large-scale project aims to establish a network for the collection and collation of high-quality clinical data, including biosamples and imaging data. The purpose of this endeavor is to create strong foundations for future research studies. The project is closely linked with the development of the National Research Data Platform for COVID-19 (FoDaPa), which will also include NAPKON-generated data. Prof. Dr. Martin Witzenrath, Consortium Co-coordinator and Deputy Head of Charité’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Respiratory Medicine, said: “We are providing the field of COVID-19 research with a centrally coordinated resource which will offer rapid and efficient access to a myriad of high-quality data and biomaterials. By doing so, we are enabling robust research based on comprehensive and up-to-date data sets. With access to suitable cohorts, for instance, researchers would be able to study the long-term effects of COVID-19 in a systematic way, taking into account data from all health care sectors.” The network will consist of essential infrastructures and cohort platforms and bring together German university hospitals as well as other stakeholders such as non-university hospitals, private medical practices, and other health care facilities.

Project leadership: CharitéUniversitätsmedizin Berlin, Universitätsklinikum Frankfurt, Universitätsklinikum Hannover, Universitätsklinikum Schleswig-Holstein, Universitätsklinikum Würzburg. Institutions involved: Universitätsklinikum Carl Gustav Carus Dresden, Universitätsklinikum Köln. All German university hospitals are invited to join NAPKON. Non-university partners: Non-university hospitals, private medical practices, and other health care facilities.


Determining and using immunity to SARS-CoV-2 (COVIM)/Bestimmung und Nutzung von SARS-CoV-2 Immunität (COVIM)

Protective immunity can prevent infections and play a decisive role in controlling the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The ability to identify markers of immunity is therefore crucial, as is the ability to reliably determine individual and population-level immunity. This is why the COVIM consortium is addressing the following questions: Which individuals have protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2, how is this achieved and how long does it last? How can the protective immunity of a few individuals be transferred to a large number of people without such immunity? Project Co-coordinator Prof. Dr. Leif Erik Sander of Charité’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Respiratory Medicine, said: “In order to find answers to these questions, we are pooling existing expertise in immunology, virology, bioinformatics, epidemiology and infectious disease medicine from across Germany. We will study both collective and individual immunity in order to capture as full a picture of anti-SARS-CoV-2 immunity within the German population as possible”. The researchers plan to use an interdisciplinary ‘ImmunoHub’ to combine the data collated by members of the COVIM consortium and analyze them using computer-assisted learning. By working in close collaboration with the NAPKON project, the COVIM project aims to help advance the search for measures aimed at protecting the population against COVID-19.

Project leadership: CharitéUniversitätsmedizin Berlin, Universitätsklinikum Köln. Institutions involved: Universitätsklinikum Düsseldorf, Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, Universitätsklinikum Freiburg, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Technische Universität München, Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, Universitätsklinikum Köln, Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Universitätsklinikum Frankfurt, Universitätsklinikum Gießen und Marburg.


Organ-specific stratification in COVID-19 (Organo-Strat)/Organspezifische Stratifikation bei Covid-19 (Organo-Strat)

The name ‘Organo-Strat’ (short for ‘organ-specific stratification’) highlights the fact that COVID-19 is not merely a disease of the respiratory system. Rather, the disease can also affect other organ systems, such as the heart, brain, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and blood vessels. Our understanding of both the type and extent of organ involvement remains limited, yet they exert a direct impact on individual prognoses and treatment options. What we currently lack is meaningful, clinically relevant data on disease development, disease progression and organ-specific manifestations. There is a similar lack of robust models for use in the preclinical testing of potential drug candidates. Project Co-coordinator Prof. Dr. Andreas C. Hocke of Charité’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Respiratory Medicine, said: “Our aim is to establish a network of university hospitals and other university and non-university partners. The purpose is to develop standards for human organ models and their targeted infection, as well as for comparative analyses involving ex vivo and postmortem tissue samples. Structured quality and data management processes will help establish an agreed process chain, which will be dedicated to increasing our understanding of COVID-19”. Using COVID-19 data, Organo-Strat will create a modular and flexible network structure which will facilitate research into other emerging pathogens. As such, it will be able to form part of future Pandemic Preparedness efforts by providing information on organ-specific disease involvement and supporting the rapid testing of potential drug treatments.

Project leadership: CharitéUniversitätsmedizin Berlin. Institutions involved: The nine initial sites are the following university hospitals: Aachen, Berlin, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Jena, Gießen/ Marburg, Münster, Tübingen and Würzburg. (Non-) university partners: Freie Universität Berlin, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung (HIRI, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Max-Delbrück-Centrum für Molekulare Medizin in der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft, Robert Koch-Institut.


COVID-19 Pandemic Radiological Cooperative Network (RACOON)/Radiological Cooperative Network zur Covid-19 Pandemie (RACOON)

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that radiology would play a crucial role in the management of this new disease. Lung CT scans continue to play a key role in diagnosing the disease and, above all, in predicting disease progression. The analysis of radiology findings is therefore one of the major objectives – and key to an effective pandemic response approach. One of the obstacles to systematic and quantitative analyses of imaging data is the lack of standardized reporting. Traditional prose reports in particular are often not accessible to computer-assisted methods of analysis. Over the past few years, radiology has therefore witnessed the emergence of itemized reporting. Individual findings and measurements are linked to meta data which can be used to identify in a clear and reproducible manner how a specific finding was obtained, quantified, or deduced from other data. As the first project of its scope, the RACOON network will establish a nationwide infrastructure for the standardized collection of COVID-19-related imaging data and use them to fight the pandemic. Co-Project Lead Prof. Dr. Bernd Hamm, Head of Charité’s Department of Radiology, said: “RACOON enables us to collate the findings and data on pneumonia cases with suspected COVID-19 and use them for research purposes. It will be the first time that such large quantities of highly structured data will be made available to inform relevant decision-making processes in epidemiological studies, situational assessments, and early warning mechanisms”. Another aim is to make the data available for use with epidemiological early warning systems and medical assistance systems (including artificial intelligence-based systems).

Project leadership: CharitéUniversitätsmedizin Berlin, Universitätsklinikum Frankfurt. Institutions involved: All German university hospitals. (Non-) university partners: Technical University of Darmstadt, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg, Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Medicine MEVIS, Bremen.

Contact

Manuela Zingl
Corporate Spokesperson
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Tel: +49 30 450 570 400



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