Since October 2020, the State of Lower Saxony has supported the COFONI Research Network and up to the end of 2025 will have financed projects with a total amount of 8.4 million Euros. COFONI is made up of five partners from Lower Saxony: the University of Göttingen with its University Medicine Göttingen (UMG), the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), Hannover Medical School (MHH), the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover (TiHo) and the German Primate Center – Leibniz Institute for Primate Research (DPZ). In COFONI, the partners pool their scientific core skills to contribute towards dealing with the Corona pandemic.
A proposal in the COFONI key area “Pathophysiology: immunomodulation and immune control“ under the leadership of Professor Tobias Welte, Head of the Department of Pulmonary and Infectious Diseases and Speaker for the Hannover site of BREATH, at the German Center for Lung Research (DZL), in cooperation with Professor Christine Falk, Head of the Institute of Transplantation Immunology and also a researcher at the DZL as well as the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), Professor Günter Höglinger, Head of the Neurology Clinic, and further experts at the MHH, the UMG and the HZI, has now been successful.
„In the LOCO-PIN project we will continue to research long COVID symptoms based on the long COVID cohorts established in our clinic already in May 2020“, says Professor Welte. Among these are the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) as well as the Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS), which are at the same time linked with pulmonary immunological and neurological-pathological changes. „These different subtypes of long COVID have been poorly characterized up to now and there are still no therapeutic options“, the scientlst explained.
The rather unusual designation for the study, LOCO-PIN, stems from the combination of long COVID and Pulmonary, Immunological and Neurological studies of new treatment options. Besides the already established long COVID cohorts, in which patients with different levels of COVID have been and will be included, immunocompromised test subjects, particularly organ transplant recipients and cancer patients are included after their second vaccination in a further part of the study. Here, the neutralizing activity of the spike-specific antibodies and the occurrence of autoantibodies against known autoantigens (ANA, ANCA) as well as the spike-specific T-cell response will be examined. Neurological issues will also play a role.
It is the aim of the project partners to establish improved diagnostics, comprehensive clinical, molecular and immunological phenotyping and the development of guidelines as a basis for clinical studies of the course of severe long COVID. To achieve this, the partners are building on the already established infrastructures and wide-ranging expertise available at the MHH, the UMG and the HZI in the field of pneumology, immunology, neurology, sports and rehabilitation medicine as well as digital health. „Our common goal is to improve the diagnosis and care of patients with complex and severe long COVID“, Prof. Welte summarizes, „and I am convinced that we will achieve this goal within the 24-month duration of the study.“
Prof. Dr. Tobias Welte, Director of the Department of Respiratory Medicine (MHH) and site Director at BREATH at the German Center for Lung Research (DZL)
Prof. Dr. Christine Falk, Head of the Institute for Transplantation Immunology (MHH) and Principle Investigator at BREATH