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Erlangen University Clinic | COV19 Research Project

THORWART-JESKA-FOUNDATION supports the development of a cell-based immunotherapy for patients after allogeneic stem cell transplantation.

Especially for patients whose immune system is already weakened by immunosuppressive therapy or due to a (cancer) disease itself, the threat of the SARS-CoV-2 virus represents an additional severe danger. In the Medical Clinic 5 - Hematology and Internal Oncology (Director: Prof. Dr. Andreas Mackensen) of the University Hospital Erlangen, scientists are therefore currently investigating under high pressure how patients from this high-risk group can be effectively helped with the aid of cell therapy. The THORWART-JESKA-FOUNDATION supports the research with a donation, which Kerstin Jeska-Thorwart, chairwoman of the foundation, now presented to Prof. Andreas Mackensen and his scientific colleagues Dr. Michael Aigner and Dr. Simon Völkl.

In healthy people, the immune system, which plays a crucial role in fighting viral infections, is generally well prepared to defend against novel viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. However, patients whose immune system is weakened either by a (cancer) disease itself or by immunosuppressive therapy have a significantly higher risk of severe complications. This applies in particular to patients who have undergone stem cell or bone marrow transplantation from a healthy donor. An complicating factor in such a case is that these patients cannot be successfully vaccinated even if a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 becomes available in the future. In order to nonetheless be able to help such high-risk patients with a COVID-19 infection, the team led by Dr. Aigner and Dr. Völkl is researching how virus-specific immune cells can be obtained from the blood of patients who have already survived a COVID-19 infection, so that these cells can then be used to treat patients after allogeneic stem cell transplantation. For this purpose, a proven method for the isolation and propagation of immune cells, which has previously been used for other types of viruses, is to be transferred to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The first molecules (virus-specific antigens) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus required for this approach, which are recognized by the immune cells, have been identified and are available for experiments.

Source: University Clinic Erlangen (in German)


From left to right: Dr. Simon Völkl (scientist of Medicine 5), Prof. Dr. Andreas Mackensen (Director of Medicine 5), Kerstin Jeska-Thorwart (Chairwoman of the Thorwart-Jeska Foundation), Dr. Michael Aigner (scientist of Medicine 5). Photo: Sebastian Wurm/University Clinic Erlangen

Photo: Sebastian Wurm/University Clinic Erlangen