University hospitals play key role in fight against coronavirus in Germany

Germany's teaching hospitals are working together with industry and basic research to devise novel ways to combat and treat COVID-19. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is supporting these efforts with millions of euros in funding.

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A long-established tradition of interdisciplinary, trans-sector cooperation in Germany is contributing to its approach to the public health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. This, coupled with a well-developed infrastructure to support innovative research, has triggered diverse projects at the country's university hospitals.

Research Minister Anja Karliczek, in July visited the Lübeck campus of University Clinic Schleswig-Holstein, the country's second largest teaching hospital. She praised its work, saying, "In the shortest time, a broad range of topics is being taken on, from medical research on the disease's mechanisms, to technical issues such as improving respirators, to applying artificial intelligence (AI) in the fight against COVID-19."

One of the efforts underway in Lübeck is an attempt to harness AI in dealing with the virus. Another is a longitudinal study known as ELISA that is evaluating how COVID-19 spreads and its common routes of infection.

The BMBF also granted EUR 4.5 million to a research alliance called InfectControl, which includes sites in Berlin, Braunschweig, Greifswald, Jena and Würzburg, for interdisciplinary projects addressing the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19. InfectControl spokesman Axel Brakhage explained, "InfectControl's researchers can draw on an established network of expertise in diverse disciplines, including human and veterinary medicine, but also architecture, social sciences, or epidemiology."

In one InfectControl project, architects at Braunschweig's Technical University, and doctors at Berlin's university hospital, the Charité, are cooperating to discover structural solutions to limit the entry of SARS-CoV-2 pathogens to hospitals and care homes. Another, at University Hospital-Würzburg, is dedicated to monitoring the spread of COVID-19 in pediatric and daycare facilities, including assessing the response of pupils, parents, teachers, and carers to different preventive methods.

These are just a few examples of how university hospitals in Germany, respond rapidly to apply research to meet urgent medical needs. Industry often plays a role as well, through third-party funding. The Export Initiative for the German Healthcare Industry, HEALTH MADE IN GERMANY, is the place to learn more about how government-supported, industry-backed research and innovation work in German healthcare.

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