The Czech Academy of Sciences tests samples, develops protective materials and advises with economics
19. 05. 2020
Scientists from several institutes of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS) assist with testing samples for the new type of coronavirus causing the Covid-19 disease, they develop new diagnosing methods and analyse materials for the production of protective masks and respirators. All the news related to the assistance of the CAS in the struggle against the contagion can be found at social media under the hashtag #Veda_proti_covidu (science against covid) and outlined in the following article. The survey is regularly brought up to date and its items are sorted from the most recent to the oldest ones.
19 May 2020 – The IDEA think tank of the Economics Institute of the CAS held an online scientific symposium of the Model antiCOVID-19 Initiative to discuss changes in the behaviour of the Czech population during the Covid-19 period and how these changes are reflected in epidemiological models.
14 May 2020 – The CAS President Eva Zažímalova and Charles University Vice-Rector for Research Jan Konvalinka (The Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS), who also coordinates the Coronavirus academic research, took part in a Café Europe debate and described how Czech scientists fight the coronavirus.
11 May 2020 – Experts of the Technology Transfer Office of the CAS (CETTAV) offered a useful set of model contracts relating to typical situations that arise in co-operation between research institutes and the application sphere. The models incorporate features specific for the current situation caused by the Covid-19 epidemic. All the documents can be found at the CETTAV websites.
11 May 2020 – The Biology Centre of the CAS put into full operation its new laboratory adapted for testing clinical samples for the coronavirus. Thanks to that the testing capacity of the Biology Centre has increased to 150 analyses per day and, if necessary, it can be further extended and up to 200 samples can be tested per day. Two teams of plant virologists (8 employees in total) work in the newly equipped laboratory and receive samples from patients in hospitals in the South Bohemian Region and the Vysočina Region. More information on the activities of the Biology Centre of the CAS in fighting the coronavirus can be found at its websites.
Potential Impacts on Education and Social Life
8 May 2020 – Inequalities in education were higher in the Czech Republic than in most other European countries even before the pandemic, and the sudden switch to remote teaching is not helpful in this respect, say researchers from the IDEA think tank of the Economics Institute of the CAS in their study The Covid-19 pandemic and socio-economic inequality in education.
22 April 2020 – Researchers joined in the IDEA anti COVID-19 project introduced models comparing effects of different steps intended to relax measures against the coronavirus spread. Three models are being developed by 29 scientists from 20 institutions both in the Czech Republic and abroad, including several more institutes of the CAS – the Institute of Computer Science, The Institute of Information Theory and Automation and the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry. (IDEA is the think tank of CERGE-EI, which joints experts of the Economics Institute /EI/ of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Centre for Economic Research and Graduate Education /CERGE/ of Charles University in Prague.)
21 April 2020 The Institute of Sociology of the CAS applied for the extension of the project granted by the Czech Technological Agency and entitled The cumulative effects of social disadvantage on health and the quality of life. The aim of this initiative is to interconnect the information on the health of the population, which the institute has been processing for several years, to current Covid-19 infection rate data. More information can be found at the websites of the Institute.
20 April 2020 – Not only biological, physical and chemical disciplines, but also social sciences are currently devoting themselves entirely to seeking solutions to the coronavirus crisis. The journal for the interdisciplinary examination of sciences Teorie vědy / Theory of Science published a call for considering the current situation and its future development. The author of both the call and the first text is Jan Maršálek from the Institute of Philosophy of the CAS.The text was entitled Experiments and their replication: fragile identity of SARS-COV-2.
New protective devices and materials
17 April 2020 – The Institute of Physics of the CAS together with several Czech companies launched a serial production of protective RP95-M semi-masks intended for a higher-protection class. Its design is based on an original model developed by the Czech Technical University (ČVUT). As compared to the provisional production using 3D printing method, the manufacture of key parts will be complete in several seconds instead of several dozens of minutes. At the same time, the masks will be of higher quality and less expensive. 50 000 pieces are expected to be produced weekly. You can learn more at the website of the Institute.
16 April 2020 – Several departments of the Institute of Scientific Instruments of the CAS have engaged in the projects to make printed parts for protective equipment – Průša face shields. Face shields have also been distributed to medical personnel at health and social service facilities, nursing homes etc. More information can be found at the Institute´s website.
Virologists examining the virus
Virologists at the Biology Centre of the CAS have included the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in their viral collections and are getting ready to conduct its detailed research focused on itsbiological characteristics and behaviour inside cells.More about the activities of the Biology Centre of the CAS in fighting the coronavirus can be found at its websites. It also continues in testing clinical samples for the coronavirus – in less than four week 869 samples were analysed, 28 of them proved positive.
Ethical issues under consideration
15 April 2020 – In the countries where the coronavirus has spread unchecked and affected large parts of their populations, health officials and medical personnel face serious ethical challenges. They have to decide which patients can be saved and in which cases the increased care would be provided only at the expense of the others. These and similar issues are addressed at a new website Ethics of the Epidemic created by experts from the Karel Čapek Centre for Values in Science and Technology (joining scientists from three institutions of the Czech Academy of Sciences – the Institute of State and Law, the Institute of Philosophy and the Institute of Computer Science, together with the Faculty of Science of Charles University).
14 April 2020 – Experts of the Technology Transfer Office of the CAS (CETTAV) have prepared a new clearly arranged website presenting domestic and foreign subsidy challenges and tools offering financial support for research institutions and innovative businesses ready to combat the new coronavirus and Covid-19 disease.
8 April 2020 – Economists from the IDEA think tank at CERGE-EI (which joints experts of the Economics Institute /EI/ of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Centre for Economic Research and Graduate Education /CERGE/ of Charles University in Prague) joined in the PAQ Research project entitled Life during Pandemic. Their first sub-study focuses on household economic problems and distance education.
High-capacity testing is in full swing
6 April 2020 – One week after receiving approval for engaging in high-capacity testing, BIOCEV researchers have been working at full pace. Four teams are working daily, including on weekends. Samples collected in Prague hospitals and nursing homes head to the centre headquarters in Vestec, Central Bohemia. The Biotechnology and Biomedicine Centre of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and Charles University also offers its testing services to other institutions.
Biocev researchers test samples for a new type of coronavirus
5 April 2020 – The Institute of Biophysics of the CAS was authorised by the State Institute of Health (EAC) to test samples for coronavirus using the qPCR method.
2 April 2020 – The Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic has launched a web portal to assist laboratories testing samples for the presence of coronavirus. It connects those laboratories with volunteers – university students of biology and researchers offering help to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
1 April 2020 – The Institutes of the CAS as well as universities are ready to test thousands of samples every day. To do so, they have to overcome several obstacles. One of them is the lack of commercial test kits. These are necessary to isolate viral RNA from samples. A team of the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS exerted their efforts and within two weeks developed a unique method of isolating the viral RNA from samples taken from patients.
New materials and even a robot help fight the virus
1 April 2020 – The Department of Electron Microscopy of the Institute of Scientific Instruments of the CAS offered free analyses of nanomaterials which promise to slow down the spread of the Covid-19 disease (materials for the production of breathing masks, filters and so on).
31 March 2020 – Scientist installed a robot in the Na Bulovce Hospital to facilitate the testing of samples for the Covid-19 disease. The device consists of a universal robotic manipulator, accurate pumps replacing manual pipetting, as well as accurate built-in laboratory scales verifying the amount of the liquid transferred. It was developed by researchers from the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics CTU in Prague (CIIRC CTU) and the Nuclear Physics Institute of the CAS in Řež near Prague. You can learn more at the website of the Institute.
30 March 2020 – The institute of State and Law of the CAS issued a document entitled Ethical and Legal Basis for Making Recommendations Concerning the Allocation of Scarce Resources in Providing Health Services under the Covid-19 Pandemic. More about this and related topics can be found at the website of the Institute.
Developing new methods for large-scale testing
27 March 2020 – Among the activities that can be currently very helpful is research and development of simpler and more efficient methods that would allow for a radically faster testing of the samples. Scientists from the CAS institutes are working on these methods as fast as they can, often in their free time and without any financial rewards. This may now change. The IOCB Tech company, which is a subsidiary of the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS dealing with technology transfer, has donated 7 million CZK for research and development of new diagnostics tests for the Covid-19 disease. 5 million CZK are given to the teams of Ruth Tachezy and Ivan Hirsch from the Faculty of Science of the Charles University, 2 million CZK to the team of Peter Bartůněk at the Institute of Molecular Genetics of the CAS. You can find more information in this press release.
26 March 2020 – On Thursday, March 26, the National Institute of Public Health (NIPH) has allowed an international scientific team at BIOCEV, a joint centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Charles University, to conduct large-scale testing. The team will be able to test hundreds of samples daily. “Our researchers have undergone an adequate training, and they have long-term experience in the area of manual isolation of samples, as well as detection and operation of the state-of-the-art equipment,” says Ruth Tachezy, the main coordinator of testing at the BIOCEV centre.
25. 3. 2020 – On Wednesday, March 25, the Institute of Molecular Genetics of the CAS at Krč, Prague, has received permission to begin testing, as well. Using the Institute’s robotics station, the scientists are able to test up to one thousand samples a day. The Institute has reminded the public on its Twitter that the samples will be provided by medical facilities, and asked the public not to go to the Institute personally.
In previous days, the permission to test samples has been granted also to the scientists at the Biology Centre of the CAS in České Budějovice and the ALGATECH Centre, a laboratory of the Institute of Microbiology of the CAS located in Třeboň (this laboratory will test samples collected at the hospital in Jindřichův Hradec).
The Czech Academy of Sciences also participates in the international project of development of a new test for the Covid-19 disease. Today, the CAS President Eva Zažímalová has informed about this on Twitter.
Not only biologists and chemists but economists, as well
A special “IDEA anti COVID-19” project was launched by economists from the Economics Institute of the CAS, namely from the IDEA think tank at CERGE-EI. “In the first phase of the struggle against the coronavirus, the doctors, nurses, and epidemiologists were helping the authorities and the people, and now it’s our turn – the economists’ turn – as well. We would like to employ our knowledge so that as few people as possible lose their jobs; so that people are not overcome with debts; so that as few companies as possible go bankrupt; and so that economics goes back to normal as soon as possible after the crisis is over,” says Daniel Münich, the executive director of the IDEA think tank.
The first contribution is the text by Filip Matějka: The economics shock unlike any the world has ever seen: we need to freeze the economics fast, then reawaken it again, posing the questions whether we might even now be able to predict the severity of the coronavirus’ impacts and what are the main steps that should be taken in the following days.
We are on the same ship, says the CAS president
“The Academy of Sciences is on the same ship with everyone else – and we are focusing hard on everything that might help. The institutes dealing with molecular biology have offered their knowledge and capacity for large-scale testing for SARS-CoV-2. Our institutes have also offered their reserves of protective gear to the hospitals. Together, we can manage the situation,” says the CAS President Eva Zažímalová.
Experts from the Institute of Chemical Process Fundamentals of the CAS are testing materials for production of protective gear against the spreading of viruses. For these ends, they are using a special apparatus, originally developed for testing of filters for the quality of the atmosphere. The analysis of the materials is based on a unique method published by the Czech scientists several years ago in scientific magazines. They proved that it is possible to define exactly to what extent can various materials stop aerosol particles of the size from 20 to 400 nanometres.
“The size of the virus that causes the Covid-19 disease is about 80 to 150 nanometres, depending on how much the virus is enclosed by other substances after the water evaporates from the droplets,” says Vladimír Ždímal, head of the department of chemistry and physics of aerosols at the Institute of Chemical Process Fundamentals of the CAS. “If we prepare particles of the same size as the virus, we can determine whether the material can stop it,” explains Vladimír Ždímal. The scientists are also currently collaborating with the Czech Technical University in Prague and Technical University of Liberec, jointly developing a new generation of respirators of Czech make.
Medicines against the viruses
Medicaments against viral contagions have been traditionally developed by scientists at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS, i.e. the Institute where the world-renowned scientist Anonín Holý used to do his work. One of his one-time students, the biochemist Tomáš Cihlář, is a vice-president for virology in the American company Gilead Sciences which has developed the Remdesivir medicine, a current hope against the Covid-19 disease.
The CAS will help with testing of the population
In previous days, the Czech Academy of Sciences has announced it will closely collaborate on testing of the population. “One of the most important measures to contain the crisis caused by the spreading of the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, is testing of a sufficient segment of the population,” emphasises Petr Dráber, director of the Institute of Molecular Genetics of the CAS. The assistance with testing is coordinated by Jan Konvalinka from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS.
A close collaboration in testing of the samples was offered also by the Biology Centre of the CAS, based in České Budějovice, and the Institute of Biophysics of the CAS in Brno. The Institute of Physiology of the CAS has lent a device for quantitative PCR sample analysis to the network of clinical laboratories Spadia.
The pupils will entertain themselves with science at home
In the current situation, the spontaneous activities of popularisers of the CAS, aimed at children, parents, and science fans, are very helpful, as well. Some of the first ideas came from the scientists at the Institute of Geophysics of the CAS and the Institute of Experimental Botany of the CAS. On their Facebook (and website), they have published tips how to create a 3D model of a volcano or instructions for simple biochemical experiments. Experiments for home, streamed lectures, records of older lectures and tips for online reading are collected at the new website Věda na doma.cz and at the social media of the CAS under the hashtag #Veda_na_doma.
The feedback on the social media makes it clear that people are grateful for such activities. The first online lecture for children, prepared by Petr Brož from the Institute of Geophysics of the CAS on the subject of Mars, was simultaneously watched by more than six thousand people. Other lectures are successful, as well. All can be found at the website of the project Věda na doma (Science for Home).
Psychologists are also active in these times, both in the social media and traditional media that ask experts from the Institute of Psychology for their insight. An overview of advices how to endure a quarantine, written on the basis of isolation studies (conducted under the Mars 500 research), was shared by more than 2,500 users on the social media.
Original Czech text prepared by: Leona Matušková, Division of External Relations of the CAO of the CAS
Photo: Jana Plavec, Division of External Relations of the CAO of the CAS
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