July 27, 2020

Understanding characteristics and spread of the new coronavirus at Ulm University

With two new research projects, the Institute of Molecular Virology at Ulm University’s Medical Centre contributes to a deeper understanding of the characteristics and spread of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Following the funding call of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for research on COVID-19 in the wake of the SARS‑CoV‑2 outbreak, institute director Professor Frank Kirchhoff and Dr. Daniel Sauter have acquired over EUR 900.000 in funding.

In the project ‘Restrict SARS-CoV-2’, researchers led by Professor Frank Kirchhoff are investigating the interaction of different coronaviruses with the body’s own immune response: How do the stimulation of the innate immune response and the activation of inflammatory reactions influence the replication and spread of coronaviruses? The project focuses on the current pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2, the SARS pathogen, MERS-CoV and some relatively harmless coronaviruses that infect humans or animals. First goal of the project is a deeper understanding of the biological basis of various coronaviruses. But above all, the group wants to find out whether the body’s own immune response can be modulated to the extent where it becomes possible to reliably control SARS-CoV-2. These findings could lay the foundation for an immunotherapy against SARS coronaviruses.

So-called spike proteins are the focus of the project ‘protACT’, which was initiated by Dr. Daniel Sauter. These proteins in the virus envelope grant coronaviruses access to the target cells in which they multiply. This ‘key’ to the new host, however, must be activated in advance by ‘cutting’ it with cellular proteases. The new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 seems to have an advantage over other pathogens in this regard. ‘With its polybasic interface for the common protease furin it has a master key, so to speak. In this new project, the team around Dr. Sauter wants to investigate the exact role of furin and other proteases in the activation of the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. The researchers also hope to find new therapeutic targets.

Full article: https://www.uni-ulm.de/en/university-news/news-details/article/das-neue-coronavirus-verstehen-forschungsprojekte-ergruenden-eigenschaften-und-ausbreitung-von-sars-cov-2-1-1/

For further information:

Prof. Dr. Frank Kirchhoff:  phone: +49 731 500-65150, frank.kirchhoff@uni-ulm.de

Dr. Daniel Sauter: phone: +49 731 50065169, daniel.sauter@uni-ulm.de

Cover picture by Dr. Clarissa Read/Ulm University: The new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is the subject of two new BMBF-funded projects at Ulm University and its Medical Centre

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