On November 11th, 2021, the foundation Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung (EKFS) digitally announced the 4 winners of its funding grant competition “Your Idea to Combat Droplets”. The 4 scientific projects chosen were presented together with an impulse provided by Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten in his address on the topic of “What will be the next pandemic?”.
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 infections.
The allocation of funds took place within a two-phase procedure. A total of 52 promising brief outlines had been submitted by April 15, 2021. The 12 applicants with the best jury evaluations were requested to submit full applications by the end of July. The jury’s recommendation to the Foundation Board for funding occurred in early October: the Board made its decision on funding the projects at the end of October. The following 4 best research projects shall be funded by EKFS with a total of 1.3 million euros:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Members of the Jury
- 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)
Further information can be found in the press release from Nov. 11, 2021.