St Petersburg University has signed an agreement with Technische Universität Dresden (Germany). The work within the terms of the agreements between the two universities will be focused on the study of Post-Covid-19 syndrome – the coronavirus consequences. 

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The document was signed by Sergey Andryushin, Deputy Rector for International Affairs of St Petersburg University, and Ronald Tetzlaff, Chief Officer of the Technology Transfer and Internationalisation Department at Technische Universität Dresden. The agreement was signed as part of the Week of Germany in St Petersburg during the Russian–German symposium. It was organised by Professor Stefan Bornstein, Director of the Department of Medicine at Technische Universität Dresden, and St Petersburg University. The symposium focused on the international pandemic response despite closed borders.

The organisers stated that the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be the greatest challenge to humanity since World War Two. Sergey Andryushin noted that the pandemic has changed the whole world.

2017 saw the establishment of the Laboratory of the Mosaic of Autoimmunity at St Petersburg University within the framework of the mega-grant programme of the Government of the Russian Federation.

It is time to review these events and understand how we can refine all areas of human life, including, first of all, medicine and healthcare.

Sergey Andryushin, Deputy Rector for International Affairs

Raul Gainetdinov, Director of the Institute of Translational Biomedicine at St Petersburg University, said that joint work with German colleagues had begun long before the introduction of lockdown measures. ‘We were planning to visit Germany back in 2019. The pandemic prevented our plans from happening. However, it eventually brought us closer together during our studies of COVID-19. The virus has no boundaries, and this teaches doctors throughout the world to work together.’

The researchers from St Petersburg University together with their colleagues from Technische Universität Dresden and its university clinic have already carried out a series of studies. For example, the impact of endocrine and metabolic disorders on the severity of COVID-19 has been determined. Doctors have found that people with diabetes or, for example, obesity, go through coronavirus with difficulty, most often with complications. According to Stefan Bornstein, patients with metabolic disorders account for about 30% of the total number of deaths from coronavirus in Germany. Moreover, the researchers have registered that severe COVID-19 can aggravate the course of diabetes in patients. This is due to the possible appearance of hyperglycaemia and impaired insulin metabolism. Some patients have been first diagnosed with diabetes after having coronavirus in their medical history.

Additionally, the data that doctors currently have suggests that coronavirus can contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases. This is because antibodies work against the cells of their own body. These autoantibodies make the immune system work not for the good of the person, but vice versa. Whether this disorganisation can be prevented – and if so, how – remains to be seen in the framework of international cooperation.

Also, doctors from St Petersburg and Dresden are studying the role of autoimmunity in relation to the Post-COVID-19 syndrome, the so-called Long COVID.

This condition is characterised by a wide range of symptoms, including: persistent fatigue; headaches; shallow breathing; insomnia; muscle weakness; mild fever; and decreased memory and performance. Raul Gainetdinov said that there is already evidence that such conditions persist in 20% of patients for up to 12 weeks, and in 2% even longer. Among the ways to combat autoimmune diseases are: intravenous administration of immunoglobulins – donor antibodies; the prescription of corticosteroids, vitamins, and anticoagulants; and much more, depending on the symptoms. One of the most promising methods of the Post-COVID-19 syndrome treatment to be studied by the researchers in more detail is plasmapheresis. It is the process of dividing blood into components and purifying it to remove autoantibodies and correct coagulation disorders.

According to the scientists, an in-depth study of the immune system's response to the threat of the virus will help open the door to both novel diagnostic methods and treatment strategies. This work will engage the staff of: Technische Universität Dresden; the Laboratory of the Mosaic of Autoimmunity, including its head Yehuda Shoendeld, the world-renowned expert in the study of autoimmune diseases, head of the Zabludowicz Center for Autoimmune Diseases at the Chaim Sheba Medical Centre at Tel Aviv University, and President of Ariel University, Israel; the

Pirogov Clinic of High Medical Technologies at St Petersburg University; the Hospital Charité (Germany); and the National BioService research company (a portfolio company of the Russian Venture Company (RVC) Biofund and a resident of the Skolkovo Biomedical Cluster). 

The scientists of the symposium noted that the results, which are already available to doctors, should be used not only in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. They are also expected to become an effective weapon against the large-scale spread of subsequent epidemics, possibly even more dangerous. Global challenges should be tackled by global cooperation as the participants of the symposium summed up.