Post Corona: Smart photonic and molecular technologies to combat infectious diseases
- Prof. Dror Fixler, Bar Ilan University
- Prof. Ohad Gal-Mor, Sheba Medical Center
- Prof. Jürgen Popp, Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology
- Prof. Ulrich Schaible, Research Center Borstel – Leibniz Lung Center
The ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has an enormous impact on human health and affects societies, economies and health systems globally, while challenging past assumptions and future certainties. Nevertheless, pandemics such as COVID-19 are not entirely new phenomena. Newly emerging and reemerging infectious diseases have been affecting humankind since the neolithic revolution, 12,000 years ago. Previously, devastating pandemics caused by smallpox and measles viruses or plague yersiniae have caused a significant loss of the human populations back then. The 1918 influenza pandemic killed at least 50 million people, and is considered as the deadliest disease in recorded human history. More recently, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, emerging 1981, has taken the lives of at least 37 million people. Alarmingly, over the last decades, the frequency of recurring outbreaks has been on the rise as exemplified by Influenza, Ebola, Chikungunya, Zika and the novel corona viruses, SARS-CoV-1 in 2002, MERS-CoV in 2012 and SARS-CoV-2.
A new public health challenge is the alarming increase of infections caused by multidrug resistant bacterial and fungal pathogens, which are often associated with high morbidity and mortality. Topping the WHO list of multidrug resistant bacteria is the causative agent of tuberculosis, already the most important infectious disease worldwide. More than 50 % of all tuberculosis cases in certain East European and Central Asian countries are multidrug resistant. Infections caused by multidrug resistant pathogens fail to respond to conventional treatment and often leaves last-resort antibiotics as the ultimate therapeutic options. When those fail too, we will be back in the pre-antibiotic era.
The global challenge of new infectious agents requires innovative strategies for better prophylactics and therapies, improved diagnostics and data sharing combined with worldwide surveillance. The recent evolution of optical and Omics technologies has revolutionized medical diagnostics and generated new tools and biosignatures for pathogen identification and surveillance, point of care diagnostics and biomarker-assisted individualized therapies. Optical imaging technologies are currently capable of providing molecular-grade information, while omics-based approaches facilitate personalized precision medicine.
International and collaborative efforts between academia, health organizations and industry in developing innovative optical and molecular technologies will be needed to improve preparedness and response to the next pandemic. The current COVID-19 experience may be used as a transformation catalyst, to accelerate the implementation and adoption of innovations in the post-pandemic era.
In order to discuss these important concepts with international experts, the Leibniz Association represented by the two Leibniz Research Alliances, Health Technologies and INFECTIONS, are joining forces with GIF to start an expert workshop focusing on the following topics:
- What can we learn from the COVID-19 crisis in terms of testing, processing and sharing clinical and epidemiological information?
- Cutting-edge photonic and molecular technologies for diagnostics, detection, surveillance, biomarkers and precision medicine driven by artificial intelligence.
- Persistence, transmission, species crossing and control of bacterial, fungal and viral infections in different environments and under the current geopolitical changes in the world.
- Measures to counteract the future scenario of entering the post-antibiotic era.
- Defining the medical and market needs for novel health technologies and bringing innovations to the market.