SARS-CoV-2 Minister Sibler is informed about current research

May 07, 2020

Last Monday, Bavarian Minister of Science Bernd Sibler visited the gene center and the chair for organic chemistry to find out about the current status of research on the novel virus SARS-CoV-2.

Professor Thomas Carell, holder of the Chair of Organic Chemistry at LMU, is a specialist in DNA repair. Among other things, his research team is developing gene scissors that can cut through the virus genome at different locations after a cell is infected. This already works very well in Corona model viruses. For this reason, the first tests on the real virus will soon take place in human lung cells.

At the gene center, the researchers are working on various aspects relating to the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus. For example, the working groups led by Veit Hornung, professor of immunobiochemistry and Karl-Peter Hopfner, professor of biochemistry and director of the gene center, are working on the optimization of detection methods for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. Infection with SARS-CoV-2 leads to an immune reaction, in which specific antibodies are formed. These are detectable in the blood of sick and recovered people. Therefore, there is an enormous worldwide need for sensitive and specific serological detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. The challenge is to develop sensitive tests that don't respond to other corona viruses.

Science Minister Bernd Sibler with Professor Thomas Carell in front of the new building of the Institute for Chemical Epigenetics (ICEM), a research building partly financed by the federal and state governments due to its national importance, the completion of which is planned for the end of 2020. Professor Carell is the construction manager for the ICEM.

Further research processes at the gene center are concerned with the development of an accelerated test method, which increases the test capacities of the Max von Pettenkofer Institute, the gene center of the LMU and the LMU clinic by up to 800 samples per day. Another group is working on molecular mechanisms of virus-host interaction. Three other working groups are jointly researching test methods that can detect Covid-19 infections using antibodies in the blood. Another team is studying the genetic changes in the coronavirus. This promises to provide insights into the distribution pathways, infection chains and the development of Covid-19.
“The scientists at LMU conduct research at the highest level in an outstanding environment. With innovative ideas and a great willingness to perform, they always help solve current problems, including in the current situation, ”says LMU President Huber.
And also in other LMU units. For example, a team led by virologist Professor Gerd Sutter at the veterinary faculty is working on a vector-based vaccine against the virus: the researchers are incorporating a harmless piece of genetic material from the novel corona virus into a well-known vaccine virus. This section of DNA carries the information for a specific protein of the coronavirus shell. In contrast, the protective immune response should then be directed after a vaccination.
Professor Eckhard Wolf from the gene center explains to Minister Sibler how nanopore technology can be used to determine the nucleic acid sequence of Cov-2 viruses and to trace, for example, infection chains with sequence deviations in different isolates.
Minister Sibler emphasized during his visit to Großhadern: "Research plays a key role in combating the coronavirus."
Research into the virus pandemic is not only taking place in the natural and life sciences. Numerous LMU scientists also deal with all aspects of the effects of SARS-CoV-2 in the fields of psychology, pedagogy, economics, sociology, cultural studies or history.