Representative, nationwide coronavirus antibody study starts in Reutlingen

HZI coordinates study to clarify the actual spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Germany

With the aim of obtaining a better overview of the occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 infections, a nationwide antibody study conducted by the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) was launched in the district of Reutlingen at the beginning of July. Alongside four other antibody tests, a new detection method being jointly developed by the NMI Natural and Medical Sciences Institute at the University of Tübingen in Reutlingen and the HZI is also being used to determine the immune status within the population. The test centre, at which representative blood samples are taken, has been set up at the heart of Reutlingen.

Blood sample Test tube , blurred background: Hand of medical assistant in blue gloves taking blood sample from a patient.©chompoo - stock.adobe.com

Mild or even asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections are often not detected and thus make it difficult to estimate the infection rate. While PCR tests are only effective in the acute phase, antibody tests also permit reliable indications of COVID-19 infections that have been overcome. To gain a better overview of the actual occurrence of infections in Germany, various districts are being representatively investigated in a nationwide study coordinated by the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research. The district of Reutlingen is the starting point. Since the beginning of July, around 3,000 representative blood samples have been taken there. These are first examined in two laboratories before then being sent to the HZI and the NMI for confirmation and further analyses. The testing containers in which sampling is carried out have been set up on the site of the old post office in Reutlingen.

The NMI antibody test

Prof Gérard Krause (HZI) and Dr Nicole Schneiderhan-Marra (NMI), standing in front of the pipetting robot with Corona masks.Prof Gérard Krause (HZI) and Dr Nicole Schneiderhan-Marra (NMI) in front of the pipetting robot used to analyse the blood samples with high throughput. © NMIThe samples are examined in a comparison involving five different antibody tests. The antibody test developed at the NMI in Reutlingen and in close cooperation with the HZI in Braunschweig plays a special role in this, because it differs from the other tests due to its multiplex approach. "In this case, multiplex means that we can test for multiple antibodies at the same time. This setup is very flexible and enables us to quickly deliver differentiated results", explains Dr Nicole Schneiderhan-Marra, Group Leader Biochemistry at the NMI. The fact that the multiplex antibody test can discover cross-reactions and further reduce the number of false positive results is also advantageous.

The study is due to be conducted over a one-year period, during which further blood samples will additionally be taken and analysed four and eight months after the initial samples in selected districts. "We are delighted to have found a strong partner like the NMI, with its wealth of expertise in developing such sensitive antibody tests, for the nationwide antibody study", says Prof Gérard Krause, study coordinator and Head of the Epidemiology Department at the HZI in Braunschweig. "This will allow us to gain a far deeper insight into the immune mechanisms." According to Krause, the results of these various cross-section studies can help to refine strategies for vaccines and other preventative measures. Initial results for the district of Reutlingen are anticipated from the autumn onwards.

Further information is available:
NMI antibody test (only in german)
Digital press kit (only in german)

About the NMI

The NMI Natural and Medical Sciences Institute at the University of Tübingen is a non-university research institution and conducts application-oriented research at the interface between the life sciences and material science. It offers a unique, interdisciplinary spectrum of expertise for R&D and services for regional and international companies. The institute addresses the health care industry as well as industrial sectors with materials technology and quality-oriented issues such as the vehicle, machine and tool making sectors.

The research institute is subdivided into three departments linked by a common mission statement: The search for technical solutions is always undertaken according to the highest scientific standards. In the Pharma and Biotech Department, the NMI supports the development of new drugs using biochemical, molecular and cell biology methods. The Biomedicine and Materials Sciences Department researches and develops future technologies such as personalised medicine and micromedicine for new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. The services offered to customers are focussed on the structuring and functionalisation of materials and their surfaces. Analytical questions are answered in the Material Analysis and Electron Microscopy Department.

The NMI is known beyond the borders of Germany for its incubator concept for start-up companies with a background in bio- and material sciences. Further Information about the NMI here.

The NMI Natural and Medical Sciences Institute at the University of Tübingen is supported by the Baden-Württemberg State Ministry of Economy, Labour and Housing and is a member of the Baden-Württemberg Innovation Alliance, an association consisting of 13 non-university and research institutes with industry ties. Further Information about the innBW here.

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