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German team looks to photonics for faster virus diagnosis

01 Dec 2021

Jena University Hospital coordinates new project focused on Covid-like respiratory infections.

A team of researchers in and around Jena, Germany, is to investigate ways in which photonics technologies could improve the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of fast-spreading respiratory viral infections similar to Covid-19.

Coordinated by Jena University Hospital, with technical support from experts at the Leibniz Institute for Photonics Technologies and Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, the “SARSCoV2Dx” project recently received €12 million from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), and will run for five years.

“The research project aims to use Covid-19 to develop methods and technologies that can detect viral outbreaks earlier, and help contain them in order to be better equipped for future epidemics,” stated the project partners.

Pointing out the scale of the threat at a time when the latest variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is causing renewed concern around the world, they added:

“In the last twenty years alone, influenza variants such as swine and avian flu have claimed thousands of deaths. With SARS, MERS and Covid-19, coronaviruses have spawned three new clinical pictures, the latter with unprecedented effects on daily life and the global economy.”

Spectroscopy tools
Stefanie Deinhardt-Emmer, who is leading the collaborative effort at Jena University Hospital, said: “We will work in the field of virus diagnostics, continue to research the reaction of the infected body to the pathogen, and look for new active ingredients and approaches for the therapy of Covid-19.”

Central to the project will be the development of standardized sample preparation, robust molecular and biochemical analysis for virus particles, and the establishment of biological model systems for virus infections - test systems that will be used to develop new diagnostic methods based on spectroscopy.

“We don't want to stop at cell culture or the proof of concept, but rather test new methods against the current diagnostic standards and establish them in [routine] clinical [use],” Deinhardt-Emmer added.

Other critical elements include patient characteristics to provide additional information about the course of the disease as it progresses.

Sepsis experience
The research team plans to use photonics and related technologies to analyze immune responses to the viral infection, as well as new approaches for developing antiviral agents and therapeutics.

It is hoped that the work completed by the ‘SARSCoV2Dx’ research team will first yield a deeper understanding of the infection and disease mechanisms involved in Covid-19, as well as the ability to detect SARS-CoV-2 more quickly in patient samples.

“The network team will bring the established technologies into the Leibniz Center for Photonics in Infection Research, which is currently being set up, in order to be able to continue using and adapting them and thus contribute to better preparation for future pandemics,” says the team.

Thomas Kamradt, scientific director at Jena University Hospital, added: “The years of experience in the Jena network of sepsis and infection research and our current experience during the pandemic flow into the association.

“In this way we will help to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic and future epidemics.”

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