No topic has been researched as fast or as much as the coronavirus. The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) wishes to do its part in improving the available data and knowledge base by funding four new research projects to the tune of 1.5 million euros. These include, for instance, a novel test procedure, co-funded by the State of Tyrol, which could lead to the development of new drugs to treat COVID-19. Learn more about the researchers who won funding as part of the FWF’s latest urgent funding round.
In its latest tranche of funding, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) has approved another four coronavirus research projects to the tune of €1.5 million. These projects prevailed over their competitors in the international evaluation due to their excellent quality. Two research projects are starting at the University of Vienna, one at the Medical University of Vienna, and one, co-financed by the State of Tyrol, at the Medical University of Innsbruck.
“Researchers in Austria must be able to explore new avenues in corona research. The projects funded by the FWF will enable them to produce new cutting-edge research of the very highest international standard,” said Federal Minister Heinz Faßmann. “The fact that one project is being co-financed by the State of Tyrol is a testament to the common desire to promote cutting-edge research in Austria.”
“Science plays an essential role in coping with the corona crisis: it helps develop medical tests, therapies, and vaccines; make predictions about the further development of the pandemic; and deal with the social consequences. The more we know about the virus, how it spreads, and how it affects the body, the better we can respond to the challenges of the crisis. Therefore, it is especially important for me as the State Minister for Health and Science that the State of Tyrol provide the best possible support for research into the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” stated Bernhard Tilg, Tyrol’s State Minister of Health, Nursing Care and Science, speaking about Tyrol’s financial contribution.
“Despite the unprecedented amount and speed of research on the topic at the moment, there are still significant knowledge gaps in various areas of research. The four recently approved projects were chosen for their scientific excellence and will therefore help to close these gaps,” emphasised FWF President Klement Tockner and highlighted the co-financing provided by the State of Tyrol as a positive example of good collaboration with the federal states.
Learn more about those researchers who won funding as part of the FWF’s latest round of SARS-CoV-2 urgent funding:
Corona research using a 3D cell culture model
Wilfried Posch, Institute of Hygiene and Medical Microbiology, Medical University of Innsbruck
€400,000 in funding, co-financed by the State of Tyrol
When a novel virus disease broke out in China at the end of 2019, the genome of the pathogen could be sequenced relatively quickly. But there are still many unresolved questions: How does it actually affect the human body? How does the infection progress in the respiratory tract? And how can the virus be prevented from entering the cells of the lungs? Microbiologist and immunologist Wilfried Posch of the Medical University of Innsbruck is investigating these questions using a 3D model of the respiratory tract. The extraordinary thing about this model is that it consists entirely of human cells and has been extended to include components of the immune system. It can thus be used to study how the virus interacts with the cells on the mucous membrane barriers of the respiratory system and to test new methods of preventing the virus from entering the body.
This research project, co-funded by the State of Tyrol (each contributing €200,000), enables Wilfried Posch and his team to tailor this promising test procedure to the coronavirus and thus gain valuable insights that could pave the way for the development of a new drug.
Austrian corona panel
Bernhard Kittel, Vienna Center for Electoral Research VieCER, University of Vienna
€360,000 in funding
How do people deal with the health and economic threat? What do people think about the pandemic and the measures taken to overcome the crisis? Are attitudes changing towards democracy and the rule of law? A multidisciplinary team led by the social scientist Bernhard Kittel is investigating the attitudes, behaviours, and reactions of people living in Austria to the coronavirus crisis. The “Austrian Corona Panel” is one of the largest social science studies on the coronavirus in Austria and involves a monthly survey of 1,500 people, with the aim of providing solid and reliable data. The funding provided by the FWF will enable Bernhard Kittel and his project team to continue their study, which was initially financed by the Viennese Science, Research and Technology Fund (WWTF).
Natural product research on the coronavirus
Judith M. Rollinger, Department of Pharmacognosy, University of Vienna
€395,000 in funding
Only one third of all medicines are purely synthetic. The majority are derived from natural products. Pharmacist Judith Rollinger and her team from the University of Vienna are investigating which naturally occurring antiviral substances can be used to treat acute respiratory diseases. In order to track down other promising potential drug substances, the scientist is combining empirical knowledge from traditional medicine with Big Data science and complex computer simulations. Using this method, the research group has already managed to isolate plant compounds that are active against both influenza viruses as well as pneumococci. The urgent funding from the Austrian Science Fund will enable Judith Rollinger and her team to comb through hundreds of extracts from fungi, medicinal plants, and microbes in an effort to discover those substances which are effective against the coronavirus.
The role of antihypertensive drugs in Covid-19
Oliver Langer, Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Medical University of Vienna (principal investigator)
Christoph Denk, Institute of Applied Synthetic Chemistry, Vienna University of Technology (research partner)
Thomas Wanek, Austrian Institute of Technology AIT (cooperation partner)
€360,000 in funding
Do antihypertensive drugs have an impact on SARS-CoV-2 infection? Since the pandemic began, researchers have been using a variety of methods in an attempt to definitively determine the role of the ACE2 enzyme, but so far without success. This enzyme is of interest because it allows the coronavirus to enter and infect healthy cells. Pharmacist Oliver Langer and his group plan to use the FWF urgent funding to develop a method that can determine the concentration of ACE2 in tissue using positron emission tomography (PET) with a radiolabelled substance, thus enabling us to better assess the impact of antihypertensives. The method and the results derived from it will make an important contribution to the development of new COVID-19 drugs.
FWF’s SARS-CoV-2 urgent funding:
Accepting applications until September
In response to the corona pandemic, the FWF launched a SARS-CoV-2 urgent funding programme—a fast track procedure for research proposals dealing with the prevention, early detection, containment, and study of SARS-CoV-2, with an emphasis on international cooperation. It also concerns research on political, cultural, or ethical aspects. The deadline for applications is open until the end of September 2020, and funding may be requested for basic research in all disciplines.