Does coronavirus also affect the nervous system? New biobank to provide data that COVID-19 is more than a lung disease

Medical experts already agree that coronavirus can also affect other organs such as the heart and kidneys – as well as the central nervous system. However, there is no reliable evidence for the exact pathomechanism. To clarify this, a nationwide register is currently being set up at the University of Giessen.The biobank collects samples from the central and peripheral nervous system of deceased COVID-19 patients.

Sars-CoV-2 often means more than cough and fever: Many people who fall ill with COVID-19 also suffer from dizziness, headaches and severe impairment of senses such as smell and taste. A study from Wuhan, China shows neurological symptoms in every third patient. Researchers have also identified the genetic substance of SARS-CoV-2 in patients’ cerebrospinal fluid. But whether and what the coronavirus triggers in the nerve cells has not yet been thoroughly investigated. 

The German Society for Neuropathology and Neuroanatomy (DGNN) has therefore initiated a Germany-wide register of human samples from the central and peripheral nervous system (CNS, PNS) used in COVID-19 autopsies. The biobank with the name CNS-COVID-19, which was applied for as part of the “National Research Network of University Medicine on COVID-19,” is being established by the Institute of Neuropathology, whose director Prof. Dr. Till Acker is also the chairman of the DGNN, and the Institute of Medical Informatics at the Justus Liebig University of Giessen. Also involved in the organisation is the MIRACUM consortium (Medical Informatics in Research and Care in University Medicine), which is funded within the framework of the Medical Informatics Initiative (MI-I) of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and in which all three member universities of the Central Hessen Research Campus are involved.

With the help of the new biobank, scientists will now have access to cells and data in order to investigate potential CNS involvement in detail morphologically, molecularly and clinically and to better understand the development of SARS-CoV-2 infections. For example, it is not known in which clinical courses and at what frequency the CNS is involved in COVID-19. For this reason, close cooperation has been agreed with the PanN3 initiative of the German Neurological Society (DGN), which investigates neurological concomitant diseases associated with COVID-19.

This Central Hessen registry will be networked with other COVID-19 patient registries. “The registry will be made available to the scientific community,” emphasizes Prof. Dr. Till Acker. Besides him, the University of Giessen is also involved: Prof. Dr. Henning Schneider and Prof. Dr. Keywan Sohrabi (both from medical informatics), PD Dr. Jan de Laffolie (pediatrics), PD Dr. Anne Schaenzer (neuropathology) and Prof. Dr. Christiane Herden (veterinary pathology). Prof. Dr. Axel Pagenstecher (Neuropathology) from the Philipps University of Marburg is also part of the team. The researchers involved hope for a rapid implementation, as a similar register for children and adolescents with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases already exists. 

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