Bonn, April 21, 2020. For a study on the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) is asking around 5,000 participants of the “Rhineland Study” to have their blood tested. The screening will show how many people were already infected by the coronavirus and help answer the question of what determined whether they developed no, mild or severe symptoms. On this topic, the DZNE is cooperating closely with the lab of Prof. Christian Drosten, Director of the Institute of Virology at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin.
The blood of the study participants will be tested for antibodies against the coronavirus. By matching these findings with data on health and lifestyle already collected within the framework of the “Rhineland Study”, the researchers hope to gain new insights into the pathogen and into how various health factors affect the severity of an infection with the coronavirus. “This may help to develop preventive measures and therapies,” said Prof. Monique Breteler, head of the Rhineland Study. The DZNE reseacher also had the idea to use the data collected so far in the fight against the coronavirus. “Using these resources is an obvious choice,” she is convinced.
Information about immunity against coronavirus
The coronavirus can cause serious medical problems. On the other hand, there are affected persons who apparently do not even notice that they are infected. “Why some people are resistant to this virus and others are not, is an open question. Pre-existing diseases probably play a role. However, this is largely unclear in detail,” said Breteler. “We assume that among our study participants there are both recovered coronavirus patients, in whom the disease was recognized at the time, and a certain number of unnoticed cases who did not show any symptoms. By blood analysis we can find out if antibodies were produced and if there was an infection.”
The blood test is free of charge and the results are communicated to all study subjects. “The Rhineland Study represents a real treasure for such a research project. I hope that our participants will also support us in this endeavour. They will be among the first in Germany to learn whether they already have antibodies that have been produced specifically against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and whether they now can now assume they are immune,” said Breteler. “We need massive involvement. We are prepared to take all blood samples in the next two to three weeks. We are planning a follow-up examination in half a year to find out how the number of people with antibodies has developed by then.”
The project benefits from the fact that all participants in the “Rhineland Study” undergo extensive medical examinations. This population study conducted by the DZNE has been researching determinants for a healthy living since 2016. Around 5,000 adults from Bonn are already involved. They will receive a personal invitation to the blood testing by mail or e-mail within the next days. Detailed information on each individual’s health is available, for example about underlying diseases, lifestyle, nutrition, physical fitness and the immune system.
“All previous participants of the Rhineland Study are invited to the blood screening. The condition is that they do not show any symptoms of a cold on the day of the blood test. Anyone who suspects they have an acute Covid-19 disease should not refer to us, but definitely consult a doctor,” said Breteler.
Cooperation with Charité
In this project, the “Rhineland Study” collaborates closely with the Institute of Virology on Campus Charité Mitte. Its director, Prof. Christian Drosten, was quickly convinced of this possibility to better understand the coronavirus. His laboratory will examine the blood samples collected in Bonn for specific antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Safety for participants and employees
The DZNE places the highest value on health protection. “Our scientists want to help to overcoming this global crisis”, said Prof. Pierluigi Nicotera, Scientific Director and Chairman of the DZNE’s Executive Board. “When we open the premises of the Rhineland Study for these investigations, we will protect both our staff and the study participants to the highest standards. The University Hospital Bonn advises and supports us in this respect.”
On the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
The DZNE investigates all aspects of neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in order to develop novel approaches of prevention, treatment, and health care. The DZNE is comprised of ten sites across Germany and cooperates closely with universities, university hospitals, and other institutions on a national and international level. The DZNE is a member of the Helmholtz Association.
On the DZNE’s “Rhineland Study”
The “Rhineland Study” is a population study in the Bonn area that investigates which protective and risk factors influence the health of adults up to old age. The results aim to contribute to health promotion and the prevention of so-called widespread diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The study is conducted by the DZNE and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.