Corona/COVID-19: Activities of the BIH

The Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), together with the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, has set up an interdisciplinary study program consisting of a series of basic and clinical studies, which aim to expand knowledge about the new coronavirus and its health consequences as well as therapy options as quickly as possible. Using state-of-the-art methods - such as mass spectrometry, single-cell sequencing and high-throughput immunocharacterization - for example, the researchers are investigating the changes SARS-CoV-2 causes in the body. The research projects also shed light on the role of the heart and immune system in the disease process. The studies also focus on possible secondary damage and its prevention. Last but not least, a number of therapy options are being examined.

Professor Axel R. Pries, former interim Chairman of the BIH Executive Board and Dean of Charité - Universitätsmedizin: “In light of the global threat posed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we as researchers have a duty to marshal all of our scientific knowledge to understand the virus and its infection strategies as well as the disease progression of COVID-19 patients. Only so can we better identify high-risk patients and develop new therapies and vaccines. Every contribution towards this effort makes a difference.”

In order to best promote research into SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 at the Charité and the BIH, the newly established Charité/BIH COVID-19 Research Board coordinates all research projects. Staffed by experts from a wide range of disciplines, it aims to promote synergies, make the use of scarce biomaterials as efficient as possible, and enable joint access to technologies. 

Here we will keep you informed about current developments regarding SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 and activities of the Berlin Institute of Health

07 January 2021

Tiny molecules with a big impact

The human organism requires a variety of small molecules, such as sugars or fats, in order to function properly. The composition of these so-called metabolites and their interaction – the metabolism – varies from person to person and is dependent not only on external influences, such as nutrition, but also to a significant extent on natural variations in our genetic make-up. In an international study, scientists from the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin joined forces with colleagues from the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States and discovered hundreds of previously unknown variations in genes that have a sometimes drastic impact on the concentration of these small molecules in the blood. The researchers have now published their findings in the journal Nature Genetics.

To the press release

28 December 2020

An augmented immune response explains the adverse course of COVID-19 in patients with hypertension – could ACE inhibitors offer protection?

COVID-19 patients who also suffer from high blood pressure are more likely to fall severely ill with the disease, which also leaves them at greater risk of death. Scientists from the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, in collaboration with partners in Heidelberg and Leipzig, have now found that the immune cells of patients with hypertension are already pre-activated, and that this pre-activation is greatly enhanced under COVID-19. This most likely explains the augmented response of the immune system and the more severe disease progression. However, certain hypertension-reducing drugs known as ACE inhibitors can have a beneficial effect. They not only lower blood pressure, but also counteract immune hyperactivation. The scientists have now published their findings in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

To the press release

10 October 2020

Federal Ministry of Education and Research funding PRECOPE project

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the research group of Professor Daniel Strech, deputy director of the BIH QUEST Center, has received a BMBF grant for the PRECOPE project. The project aims to enable the implementation of research ethical standards during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April this year the working group already conducted a survey with the 52 German ethics commissions on challenges and possible solutions with research proposals on COVID-19. The results can be found here as a German report and here published as an English preprint.

1 October 2020

Standardized data for Covid-19 research

BIH Chair Roland Eils heads up collaborative project within the Network of University Medicine

Initiated and coordinated by Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the National Research Network of University Medicine on COVID-19 is pooling research efforts across Germany. Its aim is to make findings relevant to the novel disease available as quickly as possible. The framework for nationally coordinated Covid-19 research has now been established. The research network has drawn up plans for 13 large-scale collaborative projects, which are to be led by different university medical centers. Roland Eils, the BIH Chair for Digital Health, is the coordinating project leader of one of the funded projects. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is providing some €150 million in total funding to support the research network.

Whether it’s preventing infections, providing optimal patient care or maintaining health care capacity, the Covid-19 pandemic requires completely new strategies for action within a short time period. Scientists at 36 university medical centers across Germany have joined forces to combine and strengthen their research activities. The National Research Network of University Medicine on COVID-19, known for short as the Network of University Medicine (NUM), is centrally coordinated by Charité. Co-initiator of the network and Chief Executive Officer of Charité, Professor Heyo K. Kroemer, explained:“Researchers have come together under this umbrella, which includes nearly all German university hospitals and other networks, to work across locations to find the best possible solutions for patient care, to answer health care research questions, to combat the pandemic and to implement evidence-based procedures. What is new is the guiding idea: Cooperation among as many actors as possible instead of competition against one another, because we now need knowledge that is quickly accessible.”

The Network of University Medicine is promoting the systematic nationwide exchange of data and findings between the cooperation partners. In close cooperation with the National Task Force and coordinated by the Charité, 13 large-scale projects were selected from more than 280 proposals. The implementation plans take into account the research focuses of the respective university medical centers and pool outstanding expertise across Germany. The collaborative projects are to led by one or more of the centers. The project to create a national research data platform is being coordinated by BIH Chair Roland Eils.

National Research Data Platform for Covid-19 (FoDaPla)
The wide array of research questions involved in Covid-19 research requires the creation a of comprehensive, standardized data basis. The project therefore aims to establish a uniform nationwide infrastructure to store Covid-19 research data sets in a data protection compliant way. Current plans include a central data platform, data collection tools, use and access procedures, and a trust center. Professor Roland Eils, the coordinating project leader and founding director of the Digital Health Center of the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité, commented on the project:“We want to create an infrastructure that can map out complex Covid-19 research data, including clinical, biomaterial and image data, in a multicentric, patient-oriented and pseudonymized manner. Such data will be made available centrally for use in research and will link university medical centers together.” The German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) and the Medical Informatics Initiative (MII) are providing the infrastructure for the research data platform. The platform has been developed to be expandable and is designed for sustainable use in future pandemics.

26 June 2020

The dangerous dual role of the immune system in COVID-19

Infection with the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 follows a highly variable course: some of those infected do not even notice it, while others become so seriously ill that their lives are placed at risk. Scientists from the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and their colleagues from Leipzig and Heidelberg have now discovered that the immune system has a decisive influence on the progression of the disease. Using single-cell analysis, they discovered that epithelial cells affected by the virus issue a “distress call” to the immune system. However, migrating immune cells occasionally overshoot the mark and, due to their excessive reaction, sometimes cause greater damage than the virus itself. The researchers have now published their findings in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

To the press release

26 May 2020

Germany-wide standards for coronavirus data

Scientists across Germany are studying the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes, COVID-19. It is now important to bring together the findings and facilitate their collaborative use. Stakeholders from all parts of the healthcare system have therefore joined forces under the Corona Component Standards (cocos) Initiative. Representatives from the Berlin Institute of Health have been playing a leading role in these efforts. The aim of the initiative is to establish common data formats and standards for data related to COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2. University hospitals have agreed on a German Corona Consensus (GECCO) Data Set for use in the national network against COVID-19.

To the press release

27 April 2020

Forecast of the course of the pandemic

Since April 24, 2020, the interdisciplinary group "Control Forecasting of Intensive Medical COVID-19 Capacities (SPoCK)" led by the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) started its work. From the middle of May, the group is expected to make public daily forecasts of the further course of intensive care-related COVID-19 patients at local, national and European level over the next two years. These predictions can then be used by decision-makers in the public health sector to control the pandemic. Professor Sylvia Thun, Director of the Core Unit for Interoperability at BIH, leads the work package for interoperability in this group.

27 April 2020

Hot meals for healthcare heroes 

Dr. Elise Siegert, a participant in the BIH Clinician Scientist Program of the Berlin Institute of Health and Charité, has started a fundraising campaign that provides COVID frontline workers in Charité’s emergency rooms and intensive care units with a free meal each day. In its first month, it raised more than €50,000. 

To the news

24. April 2020

Sex, Gender und COVID-19

During the current COVID-19 pandemic there is an urgent need to better understand sex/gender differences in predictors, trajectories and impacts of COVID-19 prevention and treatment. Data from different countries, who present sex disaggregated numbers, show, that men and women are affected in different ways by the pandemic. It is still unclear, if women or men are more likely to be infected but from those countries, that present sex disaggregated data, we know that men are dying more often and develop more severe symptoms. Women on the other hand are much more affected by the huge burden of care work during the pandemic, represent a larger proportion of healthcare professionals and are more likely to become victims of domestic violence. 

20 April 2020

BIH Professor Christian Drosten receives award for outstanding science communication

Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten, BIH Professor and Director of the Institute of Virology at Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, has received the "Sonderpreis für herausragende Kommunikation der Wissenschaft in der COVID-19-Pandemie". The prize of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Stifterverband is endowed with 50,000 euros.

To the press release (in German)

7 April 2020

Paper: What Cells does the novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) attack?

Scientists from the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Thorax Clinic at Heidelberg University Hospital have examined samples from non-virus infected patients to determine which cells of the lungs and bronchi are targets for novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection. They discovered that the receptor for this coronavirus is abundantly expressed in certain progenitor cells. With this knowledge, researchers* and doctors* can develop targeted therapies. The scientists have now published their findings in The EMBO Journal.

To the press release

31 March 2020

BIH and Charité join forces against the virus: Digital Clinician Scientist programs Corona App

The Charité recently reported on a new app that allows users* to answer a questionnaire, determine their personal risk of infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, and accelerate hospital processes by scanning the answers. The app was programmed by a participant of the BIH Academy: For about a year now, the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) has been offering the "Digital Clinician Scientist Program", funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), in its BIH Academy.

More info about the Corona App and the BIH Acadamy

27 March 2020

Educational Ressources to Make the Best out of the Corona Break

Around the world, many researchers have found themselves in self-isolation, and are unable to continue performing lab-based studies. However, this can be an opportunity to learn and expand professional and scientific horizons. The BIH QUEST Center has created a list of resources to help you make the best of this strange and challenging time, and increase the quality of your research in the future.

List of Educational Ressources

25 March 2020

Calling for coordinated supporting research on measures against the corona pandemic

The BIH QUEST Center together with the German Network for Evidence-based Medicine (DNEbM)and the German Academy of Ethics in Medicine (AEMurge swift and transparent action to determine whether the measures to contain the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, such as school closures and contact bans, are achieving the desired results while being justified in terms of the numerous health, social and economic side effects. The partners have launched a call to establish a COVID-19 evidence task force that will discuss how a professional prioritization, coordination and communication of research on the containment measures can be implemented. The scientists have published the call here

22 March 2020

Berlin Senate decides on extensive contact restrictions

The Berlin Senate implements the regulations jointly made by the federal and state governments for a uniform approach throughout Germany and sets a limit on personal contacts. According to these regulations, citizens must always stay in their flat or accommodation.

Certain reasons must be given for leaving. These include among others:

  • Exercising professional, mandate-related or voluntary activities
  • Visit of doctors
  • Procurement of personal needs as well as visits to old and sick people.
  • Sports and exercise in the fresh air
  • Work in the allotment garden
  • Walk with animals
  • Performing necessary appointments with authorities, courts, etc.
  • Retreats in buildings of religious and ideological communities

The contact restriction comes into force on 23 March 2020 and is valid until 5 April 2020.

For any stay outside the apartment or usual accommodation, a minimum distance of 1.5 metres to other persons must be maintained, if possible.

For more information please read the press release of the Berlin Senatskanzlei (in German).

19 March 2020

Presence emergency operation at universities and non-university research institutions

Operation at Berlin's universities and non-university research institutions will be limited to emergency presence from Friday, 20 March 2020, after closing time, until further notice.

Exceptions are Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, which will determine appropriate measures with regard to its tasks, as well as projects of non-university institutions that are related to coronavirus research.

More information can be found in the press release of the Senatskanzlei - Wissenschaft und Forschung (in German).

18 March 2020

The Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin needs support

The Charité is looking for registered doctors and registered nurses! Please contact the Charité at the following central e-mail addresses:

14 March 2020

No events with more than 50 participants*.

The Berlin Senate decided on 14 March 2020 that with immediate effect all public and non-public events in Berlin are prohibited for 50 participants or more.

For public and non-public events with up to 50 participants, the organizer must keep an attendance list containing name, address, postal address and telephone number. This list must be kept for at least four weeks and must be handed over in full at the request of the Health Office.

More information can be found in the press release of the Berliner Senatskanzlei (in German).