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Corona Lectures: Highlighting the work of junior researchers

16 Feb 2021

In the LMU’s series of Corona Lectures, three medical professionals from the LMU Medical Center will report on their clinical experiences during the coronavirus pandemic

Intensive care unit in the hospital

Under pressure: medical professionals during the coronavirus pandemic. | © IMAGO / Leonhard Simon

The coronavirus pandemic has presented healthcare professional with huge challenges. Unable to draw on previous experience with the novel virus, they had to treat those who developed life-threatening symptoms during the first wave, while ensuring continuity of services for other patients, and initiating and carrying out research projects on the properties and pathology of the virus. In particular, junior researchers at LMU have made an enormous contribution to these efforts.

In LMU‘s Corona Lectures series, three of them will report on their clinical experiences. Johannes C. Hellmuth, assistant physician and researcher in Medical Clinic III at the LMU Medical Center, will speak about the highly variable clinical manifestations of COVID-19 infection and how potentially serious cases can be rapidly identified.

In her lecture, Elham Khatamzas, a specialist in Infection Biology in the Clinic of Hematology and Oncology at the LMU Medical Center, will focus on the particular difficulties that Covid-19 poses for immunosuppressed individuals, such as cancer patients.

Finally, Kristina Adorjan, a physician who works in Clinic of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the LMU Medical Center, will describe how individuals with psychiatric illnesses are coping with pandemic-related loneliness and isolation. In addition, Adorjan will address the question of how healthcare staff can best be helped to withstand the increased stress imposed by their work during the pandemic.

Prof. Dr. med. Oliver T. Keppler, Chief Executive of LMU‘s Max von Pettenkofer Institute and Professor of Virology, will chair the session.

Lecture:

23 Feb

Corona Lectures: Contributions of junior researchers at LMU

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PD Dr. Kristina Adorjan, Dr. Dr. Elham Khatamzas and Dr. Johannes Hellmuth: The Coronavirus Pandemic: Highlighting the work of junior researchers and physicians at LMU

Thursday, February 23, 2021, 6:15-7:45 p.m.

Registration:

Further information on the Corona Lectures Initiative

Contact: ringvorlesung-lmu@lmu.de

Further information on the topic:

Three questions for the lecturers:

Dr. Adorjan, how are people with mental illnesses coping with the extra stress imposed by the pandemic?

Kristina Adorjan: The pandemic presents an additional and serious threat to the health of persons with psychiatric illnesses. They are recognized as a particularly vulnerable section of the population, because they are exposed to pressures such as the social exclusion and stigmatization that are associated with chronic diseases like schizophrenia and depression, and other psychiatric and somatic comorbidities, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and immunodeficiency. People who have psychiatric illnesses often suffer from chronic conditions that reduce their life expectancy. In addition, their socio-economic situation – in terms of accommodation, access to education and employment and social relationships – is often precarious, as a result of deficits in communication and interpersonal skills. Many people with psychiatric disorders live alone, are socially isolated or are not in a position to claim the supports that they need if they contract COVID-19. But increased levels of stress owing to lockdown measures, quarantine, loneliness and/or social isolation, as well as the extraordinary nature of the situation created by the pandemic, frequently exacerbate the psychological and psychosocial stresses experienced by this segment of the population. Under pandemic conditions, psychiatric clinics, like other specialist hospitals, are not only of systemic relevance, they are an absolutely essential component of the health service.

Dr. Khatamzas, what special challenges does the COVID-19 pandemic present for people with malignant cancers and other immunosuppressed patients?

Elham Khatamzas: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionally severe impact on immunosuppressed patients and patients with blood cancers. There are several reasons for this. First of all, immunosuppressed patients, especially those with an active hematological disease, are significantly more likely to develop life-threatening forms of COVID-19, and are at higher risk of dying from the disease. In addition, they are more susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2 than the population as a whole, owing to their primary condition, immunosuppressive therapy and their frequent contacts with medical personnel. Furthermore, the increased pressure on limited resources such as hospital beds has a particularly serious impact on these patients. Fear of infection with SARS-COV-2 can lead to delays in the diagnosis and therapy of cancers. And the availability of COVID-19 vaccines presents these groups of patients with a further dilemma, as their efficacy – and hence their protective effect – in immunosuppressed individuals has yet to be determined. The provision of adequate care for these patient groups therefore requires a high degree of interdisciplinary professionalism and the development of innovative concepts.

Dr. Hellmuth, how can those patients who are most likely to develop severe forms of Covid-19 be identified as soon as possible, and why is this so critical for the outcome of treatment?

Johannes Hellmuth: We have a relatively good grasp of the factors associated with the development of severe forms of COVID-19. The most important risk factor is age. But pre-existing conditions, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory disorders, also increase the risk. On the other hand, in very many patients who fall into one or more of these categories, the infection follows a mild course. That makes it very difficult to predict the progression of the disease in individual cases. The fact that patients who develop inflammation of the lungs due to COVID-19 show comparatively few symptoms and have relatively minor breathing difficulties – although they may be severely ill – further complicates matters. However, a number of physiologically relevant indicators in the blood can help clinicians to gauge the severity of the disease. These include the levels of the C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). At a time when emergency departments are at full stretch and intensive care units are full, these parameters are particularly important for the assessment of whether a given patient may require intensive care and artificial respiration.

PD Dr. med. Kristina Adorjan is a psychiatrist in the Clinic of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the LMU Medical Center. Her research interests focus on the biological origins of psychological illness and the environmental factors that promote its development, in particular in Germany and Africa.

Dr. Dr. med. Elham Khatamzas, a specialist in infectious diseases, works in the Clinic of Hematology and Oncology at the LMU Medical Center. She is particularly interested in the complications that arise when immunosuppressed patients contract an infectious disease.

Dr. med. Johannes C. Hellmuth is an assistant physician and clinical researcher in Medical Clinic III at the LMU Medical Center. In addition to pursuing his own research, he is the Coordinator of the LMU Medical Center’s COVID-19 Registry (CORKUM) and Spokesperson for the LMU Task Force in the University Medicine Network (NUM).