The Czech Academy of Sciences tests samples, develops new tests and advises with economics

27. 03. 2020

Scientists from several institutes of the Czech Academy of Sciences assist with testing of samples for the new type of the coronavirus and analyse materials for the production of breathing masks and respirators. The Czech Academy of Sciences has also offered a Cessna aeroplane for the use of the Czech government in distribution of necessary medical material. The coronavirus’ impact upon society is analysed by economists from the IDEA think tank. All news related to the CAS’s assistance in the struggle against the contagion can be found at the social media under the hashtag #Veda_proti_covidu (science against covid). The following article contains all the news sorted from the most recent to the oldest ones.

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, 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 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.

Up-to-date information can be found at #Veda_proti_covidu and #Veda_na_doma.

Original Czech text prepared by: Leona Matušková, Division of External Relations of the CAO of the CAS

The Czech Academy of Sciences (the CAS)

The mission of the CAS

The primary mission of the CAS is to conduct research in a broad spectrum of natural, technical and social sciences as well as humanities. This research aims to advance progress of scientific knowledge at the international level, considering, however, the specific needs of the Czech society and the national culture.

President of the CAS

Prof. Eva Zažímalová has started her second term of office in May 2021. She is a respected scientist, and a Professor of Plant Anatomy and Physiology.

She is also a part of GCSA of the EU.