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Overcoming the Corona Crisis Together

The number of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 is rising dramatically every day, both in Germany and all over the world. This is presenting society and individuals with enormous challenges. Just like many other scientists within the Helmholtz Association and around the world, scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich are doing their part to investigate the novel coronavirus.

For instance, Jülich scientists are developing mathematical models to assess the development of the coronavirus outbreak in Germany. These models can be used to simulate the effect of measures intended to prevent the spread of the virus. In addition, they are providing the research community with infrastructure for tasks such as the computer-aided simulation of the effectiveness of potential drugs, and are also developing individual drug candidates themselves. By investigating the effects of COVID-19 on our sense of taste and smell, Jülich scientists are also contributing to research concerning the course of the disease.

This page provides an overview of the ways in which Jülich scientists are working to overcome the coronavirus crisis. First, some of the scientists involved describe their efforts in a series of interviews. Further down, all of the relevant projects are described in detail.

Forschungszentrum hilft, die Corona-Krise zu bewältigenForschungszentrum Jülich is helping to overcome the corona crisis.
Copyright: Pixabay / PIRO4D

News

Systemic epidemiological analysis of the COVID-19 epidemic - Statement Helmholtz Initiative

Experts from the Helmholtz Initiative, including Prof. Wolfgang Marquardt (Chairman of the Board of Directors of Forschungszentrum Jülich and Vice-President of the Helmholtz Association), Prof. Thomas Lippert (Director of the Jülich Supercomputing Centre and Stefan Krieg (JSC) assess the current situation in Germany in a statement. On the basis of data-based and model-based analyses, they present the possible further course of the epidemic, taking into account a relaxation of the ban on contact, in three scenarios. Read Statement

Interview with Jülich experts

“We Have to Be Cautious in Moving Forward”

Wolfgang Marquardt

The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Helmholtz Association recently issued statements evaluating the current situation and giving recommendations for how to proceed. Prof. Wolfgang Marquardt, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Forschungszentrum Jülich and co-author of both statements, comments on the outlined strategies and their relation to each other in the following interview.

Interview


“We Cannot Abandon Anyone”

Prof. Katrin Amunts

The coronavirus crisis has posed previously unheard of challenges for our society and at the same time confronted it with wide-ranging ethical conflicts. In order to provide guidelines for making these difficult decisions, the German Ethics Council has published an ad hoc recommendation paper titled “Solidarity and Responsibility during the Coronavirus Crisis”. Renowned brain researcher Prof. Katrin Amunts of Jülich’s Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine is Vice-Chair of the German Ethics Council and explains the recommendation’s key points in the following interview.
Interview

"Billions of molecules against the coronavirus proteins"

Prof. Paolo Carloni

Scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich are investigating the novel coronavirus. Two experts are Prof. Giulia Rossetti and Prof. Paolo Carloni from the Jülich Institute of Neurosciences and Medicine, Computational Biomedicin. In this interview they explain their research within the EXSCALATE4CORONAVIRUS project.
Interview
The project E4C

„Our Existing Basic Research Provides a Solid Starting Point for Further Work“

Prof. Dieter Willbold

Preventing the coronavirus from binding to host cells and fusing with them, and thus from spreading through the body, is the focus of current research by the structural biochemists at Jülich’s Institute of Biological Information Processing (IBI). More precisely, they are developing a ligand – a specific binding molecule – that displaces a certain binding protein of the virus from the receptor of the host cell. An interview with Prof. Dieter Willbold, the director of the institute 
Interview
Project

Mathematical models of the dynamics of the corona outbreak

Prof. Thomas Lippert, Direktor des Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC) im Forschungszentrum Jülich

"As a matter of urgency, we are now bringing together experts from our scientific network to obtain precise data on the virus’ spread and drug development as quickly as possible. At the moment, I expect that we will have initial results soon," says Prof. Thomas Lippert, Director of the Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC) at the Helmholtz website.
Article on the Helmholtz website



The individual projects

1. Mathematical models on the COVID-19 outbreak in Germany

Together with the University of Heidelberg and the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS), the project’s researchers are planning to develop mathematical models on the dynamics of the coronavirus outbreak in Germany. The aim of the project is to understand and control the current pandemic as well as to contribute to preventing future pandemics.

These investigations will allow us to

  • predict the point in time at which the current outbreak will reach its peak in Germany and potentially in other regions
  • predict the end of the current pandemic
  • estimate the cumulative number of infections/deaths

These three points are considered under various scenarios in which the effectiveness of intervention measures is simulated. These measures include:

  • reducing contact between people (closure of schools, introduction of home office, ...)
  • early diagnosis (particularly of cases with mild symptoms) and quarantine
  • improving the treatment of infected patients and increasing the capacity of intensive care units in hospitals
  • easing control measures such as reintroduction of human interaction etc.

For their work, Jülich’s scientists were kindly permitted to draw on data provided by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), whom they would like to thank for the support.

Contact/involvement

Prof. Thomas Lippert
Tel: +49 2461 61-2200
Email: th.lippert@fz-juelich.de

Prof. Volker Lindenstruth, FIAS
Goethe University Frankfurt
Email: voli@compeng.de

Dr. Maria Barbarossa
University of Heidelberg
Email: barbarossa@uni-heidelberg.de

2. Using Exascale to fight

The EXSCALATE4CORONAVIRUS project (E4C) involves a close collaboration among three of largest supercomputing centres in the EU (CINECA in Italy, the Barcelona supercomputing centre in Spain and the supercomputing centre of Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany) along with a pharmaceutical company, and several universities and research Institutes. These include the Jülich Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine, Computational Biomedicine (INM-9). The E4C team use supercomputers to perform molecular simulations and in silico, i.e. using special programs or algorithms, biochemical and phenotypic screening of existing drugs against SARS-CoV-2. This approach allows the fast analysis of simulation results and reduces the time required to discover new therapeutic agents. Indeed, the EXSCALATE platform permits exascale virtual screening and therefore the evaluation of billions of molecules against several targets within few weeks. This is particularly useful for pandemic viruses such as corona virus, where the immediate identification of effective treatments is of the utmost importance.

The E4C team was funded by the EU call: H2020-SC1-PHE-CORONAVIRUS-2020: Advancing knowledge for the clinical and public health response to the 2019-nCoV epidemic.

Contact

Prof. Giulia Rossetti
E-Mail: g.rossetti@fz-juelich.de

Prof. Paolo Carloni
E-Mail: p.carloni@fz-juelich.de

Involvement

  • Dompé Farmaceutici SPA, Italy (coordinator: Andrea Beccari)
  • Politecnico di Milano (Dept. of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering), Italy
  • Consorzio Interuniversitario CINECA (Supercomputing Innovation and Applications), Italy
  • Università degli Studi di Milano (Pharmaceutical science Department), Italy
  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
  • International Institute Of Molecular And Cell Biology In Warsaw (LIMCB), Poland
  • Electra Italian Crystallographic Association, Italy
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology, Italy
  • Istituto nazionale per le malattie infettive Lazzaro Spallanzani, Italy
  • Bsc Supercomputing Centre, Spain
  • Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Germany
  • Università Federico II di Napoli, Italy
  • Università degli Studi di Cagliari, Italy
  • SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Switzerland
  • KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Department of Applied Physics), Sweden
  • Associazione BigData, Italy
  • Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN), Italy
  • Chelonia Applied Science, Switzerland

Further information:

Project Information EXSCALATE4CoronaVirus

3. Computing time for coronavirus research

Within the scope of a joint initiative by the Gauss centres, the Jülich Supercomputing Centre is offering computing time on its HPC facilities and support for the investigation of the COVID-19 virus. Resources for studies concerned with the spread of the virus or with research on the medical or molecular level are offered to experts in an unbureaucratic and fast manner.

Contact:

Prof. Thomas Lippert
Tel: +49 2461 61-2200
Email: th.lippert@fz-juelich.de

4. Structural biology research on drug development for SARS-CoV-2

Structural biochemists at the Jülich Institute of Biological Information Processing develop a specific binding molecule (ligand) which displaces a certain binding protein of the coronavirus (recognition binding domain of the viral spike protein) from the receptor (ACE2) of the host cell. This means that the virus can no longer dock to the cell surface and fuse with the host cell. NMR spectroscopy can be used to investigate conformational changes of the binding protein on the envelope of the corona virus with atomic resolution. In addition, the 3D structure of another viral protein (ORF8) will be decoded and how this protein can be inhibited so that it can no longer reproduce will be investigated. A third project investigates how a viral enzyme (3C-like protease) needed by the virus for reproduction can be inhibited.

Contact/involvement

Prof. Dieter Willbold
Tel: +49 2461 61-2100
Email: d.willbold@fz-juelich.de

Dr. Jeannine Mohrlüder, Dr. Monika Coronado, Marc Sevenich, Nils-Alexander Lakomek (Forschungszentrum Jülich)
Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten (Charité Berlin)

5. Rapid access for research on coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Researchers around the world are trying to develop drugs or a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. In view of the corona pandemic, the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Zentrum (MLZ) also offers separate access to measurements with neutrons, which can provide important insight into the behavior of the virus. At the MLZ, the Jülich Center for Neutron Science operates, partly in close cooperation with partners, neutron scattering instruments with which the structure and dynamics of biological samples can be examined.

Scientists who wish to use neutrons to study the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 or the disease COVID-19 will be granted special and privileged access. They do not have to apply for measurement time through the usual channels. "Research on the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and on the disease COVID-19 currently has priority over all other applications for measurement time at the MLZ," said Prof. Dr. Peter Müller-Buschbaum, Scientific Director of the FRMII, which is why the MLZ has set up a rapid access for research on the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 with immediate effect. Guest scientists should contact the user office directly with their applications for measurement time. A scientific evaluation of the application will then take place as soon as possible.

Europe’s advanced neutron sources will make an essential contribution to the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Read here about the actions of other members of the League of advanced European Neutron Sources (LENS) with regard to special access channels for SARS-CoV-2 researchers.

Contact:

Prof. Dr. Stephan Förster,
Telefon: +49 2461 61-85161
E-Mail: s.foerster@fz-juelich.de

Jülich Centre for Neutron Science (JCNS)

Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Zentrum (MLZ)

6. With Quantum Cloud against COVID-19

Together with several other international research institutions and companies, Forschungszentrum Jülich has joined an initiative of the Canadian quantum computer manufacturer D-Wave Systems Inc. to support researchers in developing solutions to the COVID-19 crisis. In this way, D-Wave is now providing free access to quantum computer systems for anyone working on responses to the pandemic.

"It is promising to accelerate the solution of complex problems in pharmacology and epidemiology, such as those that have arisen in the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, by means of hybrid workflows from quantum-classical computer simulations," said Prof. Dr. Kristel Michielsen from the Jülich Supercomputing Centre. "To make efficient use of D-Wave's optimization and AI capabilities, we are integrating the system into our modular supercomputer environment.”

Contact:

Prof. Thomas Lippert
Tel.: +49-2461-61-2200
E-Mail: th.lippert@fz-juelich.de

Prof. Kristel Michielsen
Tel.: +49 2461 61-2524

Pressrelease: Quantum Cloud to support researchers in the fight against COVID-19 (in German)

7. Research on smell und taste disorders with COVID-19

In response to anecdotal reports of the loss of smell and of taste in people who have tested positive for COVID-19, a group of international smell and taste researchers including Dr. Kathrin Ohla from the Jülich Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience have united to study how, when and why this is happening and what it can tell us about the Coronavirus. This inclusive group, called The Global Consortium of Chemosensory Researchers (GCCR), consists of open-science contributors: transdisciplinary scientists, clinicians, and patient advocates from all over the world.

Website GCCR

Contact:

Dr. Kathrin Ohla
Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine
Cognitive Neuroscience (INM-3)
E-Mail: k.ohla@fz-juelich.de

Prof. Dr. med. Thomas Hummel
Interdisziplinäres Zentrum Riechen und Schmecken
HNO Klinik, Technische Universität Dresden
E-Mail: thummel@msx.tu-dresden.de

Involvement

The leadership team is responsible for facilitating communication within the GCCR, organizing the GCCR meetings and coordinating the group’s efforts. The leadership committee is composed of a Chair and members, currently (in alphabetical order):

John Hayes, PhD, Penn State, USA
Thomas Hummel, MD, Technische Universität Dresden, Deutschland
Chrissi Kelly, Founder, AbScent.org, Großbritannien
Steve Munger, PhD, University of Florida, USA
Masha Niv, PhD, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Kathrin Ohla, PhD, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Deutschland
Valentina Parma, PhD, Temple University, USA
Danielle Reed, PhD, Monell Chemical Senses Center, USA
Maria Veldhuizen, PhD, Mersin University, Türkei

Further information on the contributions of the Helmholtz Association to corona research

https://www.helmholtz.de (in German)