Bad Homburg v.d. Höhe, November 11, 2021 – With what kinds of innovations and measures can future pandemics be avoided? How can people protect themselves better against pathogens transmitted via the air we breathe? New types of masks, tests or medications: On November 11th, the foundation Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung (EKFS) digitally announced the 4 winners of its funding grant competition “Your Idea to Combat Droplets”.
In the course of 2021 EKFS had called for applications for an ideas competition to receive funding amounting to 1 million euros. The competition and funding are intended to stimulate and support the development of new protective measures against droplet and aerosol infections. “If we look at the frequency of pandemics in past centuries, it is quite likely that the Covid-19 pandemic is not going to be the only one in this century,” says Prof. Dr. Michael Madeja, Chairman of the Management Board at EKFS. “Similar to 1918, when the Spanish flu raged, these days we’re still wearing mouth and nose coverings and protecting ourselves by maintaining distance. But in light of Germany’s high standard for technology, we think that major advances in infection protection are possible. That’s why we want to use our funding to ramp up research in this field,” Madeja clarifies.
More than 50 brief application outlines – mainly from the 4 areas of material development in the case of masks and filters, early detection of infected people, detection of viruses in the air, and the development of medications to protect against infections – have reached EKFS. The 12 applicants with the best evaluations by the selection jury were requested to submit full applications, which were subsequently appraised by expert external reviewers. The jury concluded by selecting the 4 best projects.
The jury was composed of the following persons:
- Prof. Dr. Dr. Ulrike Beisiegel (former President of the University of Göttingen)
- Prof. Dr. Dagmar Schipanski (former Minister of Science of the German State of Thuringia)
- Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka (former German Federal Minister for Education and Research)
- Prof. Dr. Johannes Dichgans (former Vice President of DFG, the German Research Foundation)
- Prof. Dr. Karl Max Einhäupl (former head of the Charité)
- Prof. Dr. Jürgen Mlynek (former President of the Helmholtz Association)
Following conclusion of the selection process, the following 4 best research projects shall be funded by EKFS with a total of 1.3 million euros:
Dr. Sybelle Goedicke-Fritz, Saarland University, University Hospital Dept. of General Pediatrics and Neonatology, Homburg/Saar; Project: “We smell Covid-19 – Identifying coronaviruses via odor detection”
Primarily available at the present time toward containing the Covid-19 pandemic are so-called rapid diagnostic tests which, however, are both cost-intensive and time-consuming. What’s more, they are unpleasant, above all for children and for people with limited cooperation capability (e.g. due to disabilities). The project involving an electronic nose is intended to establish a fast, non-contact diagnostic instrument for the early detection of viruses, although other pathogens are to be detected as well. The device has the ability to detect volatile organic compounds that arise in the case of respiratory infections. With this new screening method, the possibility of an economical, non-invasive diagnosis of respiratory infections in a matter of minutes is supposed to be created which would also be practicably deployable for areas with high numbers of visitors and at public facilities.
Dr. Sybelle Goedicke-Fritz, Saarland University, University Hospital Dept. of General Pediatrics and Neonatology, Tel.: + 49 6841 1628301,
Dr. Thomas Grunwald, Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology, Leipzig; Project: “Aerocatch for respirator masks and room filtration systems”
Existing respirator masks are able to hold back, reduce or inactivate viruses and bacteria. However, not all of these functionalities are possible at the same time and the masks make breathing significantly more difficult due to the pore size. In the case of the “Aerocatch” project, a new type of fabric is supposed to be developed that binds viruses, bacteria and fungal spores while simultaneously killing them. The basic structure is formed by the genetic material DNA, which by nature possesses an antimicrobial effect. These DNA webs are intended to be additionally optimized by incorporating pathogen-binding molecules, for example biopolymers. The main application of this technology is the use as filter material for respirator masks or room filtration systems. The material’s functionality is tested directly on pathogens transmitted via droplet infections. Yet with this project bacteria and fungi are supposed to be assayed as well. The objective is to bind pathogens to the surface of the fabric and drastically reduce their infectivity. A containing of the spread is intended to be achieved thereby. At the end of the project the applicants aspire to providing a fabric-like filter with which transmissible airborne pathogens can be filtered and inactivated.
Britta Paasche, Print Media and PR, Tel.: +49 341 35536 9322;
Dr. Laura Paulowski, Research Center Borstel, Leibniz Lung Center, Program Sector Infections, National Reference Center for Mycobacteria, Borstel; Project: “Aerofix: Detection of Pathogens in Breathed Air”
The development of a simple, fast and easy-to-handle test system is supposed to be accomplished with the project “Aerofix”. Similar to a breathalyzer for alcohol, at first the presence of coronaviruses – and other pathogens as well – is supposed to be verified in exhaled air as simultaneously as possible. Synthetically produced aerosols are researched for this purpose: the same applies to air exhaled by healthy and sick test persons. A special sensor surface comprised of graphene, of carbon atoms arranged like honeycomb lattices, is utilized. The necessary specificity and sensitivity is attained via an additional binding to antibodies. The binding of pathogens occurs synchronously, primarily to the graphene grid, and secondarily to the antibodies. The change in conductivity is subsequently used as a detection signal with which the presence of critical concentrations in the air, for instance of coronaviruses, can be gauged.
Dr. Laura Paulowski, Research Center Borstel, Leibniz Lung Center,
Tel.: +49 4537 188 2110, eMail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Dr. Michael Bachmann, Helmholtz Center Dresden-Rossendorf, Institute of Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research (FWP), Dresden; Project: “Viroprotect: Inhalation Medication to Prevent Infection”
It can be readily observed today that complete protection in the entire population through immunization against Covid-19 is not achievable in the foreseeable future and that there will be patients with life-threatening courses of illness and serious long-term consequences who are still there. In addition, the danger exists that new virus variants can emerge which are even able to break through vaccination protection. Alongside vaccines, it is therefore urgently necessary to equally develop medications with which the multiplication of viruses and the transmission thereof is prevented and those already ill can be treated effectively. The “Viroprotect” idea endeavors to develop a new type of inhalation medication and to study its effectiveness. In the course of this it is intended that compounds arise which enable passive as well as active immune protection without vaccination. A combined administration of these types of drugs is supposed to prevent the emergence and spreading of an infection at the earliest possible stage.
Prof. Dr. Michael Bachmann, Institute of Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research, Tel.: +49 351 260 3223, eMail: email@example.com
Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung (EKFS) – Advancing research. Helping people.
The Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung, a non-profit foundation, is dedicated to the funding of medical research and supports medical-humanitarian projects. To date the foundation has funded around 2,200 projects. With a current annual funding volume of over 60 million euros, EKFS is the largest foundation funding medicine in Germany. You can find more information at: www.ekfs.de
Tel.: + 49 6172 8975-24