Corona Lectures

A series of virtual lectures for the winter semester 2020/21

Just like society as a whole, the university has been massively affected by the global coronavirus pandemic.

Yet the university also occupies a prominent position in the pandemic as the fight against coronavirus is being led not least from within academia. Thus, there is a great deal of public interest both in the results of research into SARS-CoV-2 and the consequences of its spread for society and in the measures that can be taken to contain the virus.

In the winter semester 2020/2021, LMU therefore offered a series of public, virtual lectures (in German) with renowned scientists from across the university's faculties.

The lecture series used selected highlights to demonstrate what LMU contributes to the world's knowledge about Corona. Within the scope of the university's "Corona Lectures", researchers presented some of their latest research and findings in the medical, natural and social science spheres and the humanities.

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Within weeks, a disease outbreak caused by the viral pathogen SARS-CoV-2 developed into a full-blown pandemic. Around the world, people are following its continuing spread with bated breath. Frequently, COVID-19 is either asymptomatic or associated with only mild symptoms. However, an infection by the new coronavirus can also have serious consequences, such as acute respiratory distress, severe pneumonia, and damage to multiple organ systems – and in such severe cases the infection can be lethal.

This virus poses immense challenges for medicine, science, and for our society as a whole. Challenges that must be met include the need to restructure hospital services, development of appropriate hygienic measures to deal with the immediate threat, worldwide efforts to produce a potent vaccine within a short period of time, discussions on alternative ways to induce immunity, optimization and further refinement of diagnostic procedures, discovery of more effective treatments, and finding ways to protect particularly vulnerable groups.

In his lecture in German, Prof. Keppler will report on the progress made so far by medical professionals and basic scientists, and then considers, from a virologist’s point of view, how the pandemic can be contained.

Professor Oliver T. Keppler is Director of LMU‘s Max von Pettenkofer Institute, where he holds the Chair of Virology. In addition, he is a Principal Investigator at LMU’s Gene Center, and a renowned expert on the current coronavirus pandemic.

Video (in German)

How dangerous is the SARS-CoV-2 virus? The media provide a range of answers to this question, not all of which are compatible with the scientific evidence. In his lecture, Ulrich Mansmann describes the epidemiological tools that help to quantify both the risk of contracting COVID-19 and the degree of damage inflicted by the virus. Among other topics, he will compare the properties of COVID-19 with those of the influenza virus. He also deals with the proposition that infectious diseases whose presence has long been integrated into our social lives continue to circulate in Germany, and the contention that these pose a greater health risk than COVID-19.

The lecture also demonstrates how official data on the spread of the virus are collected and disseminated, and how they are used to derive regional, national and global assessments of how the pandemic is developing: How many individuals are infected with the virus? How many show overt symptoms of infection? What do we know about the possible courses of a COVID-19 infection? How is the pandemic likely to develop in the coming months? Ulrich Mansmann will also outline the factual basis for estimates of the future trajectory of the pandemic, and illustrate how forecasts with varying degrees of reliability are compiled.

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Mansmann is Director of the Institute for Medical Data Processing, Biometrics and Epidemiology (IBE) in the Faculty of Medicine at LMU, where he holds the Chair of Biometrics and Biomathematics.

Video (in German)

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infects the human body, in which it can cause a life-threatening disease. Different sections of society have reacted to the threat presented by the virus and the consequences of its propagation by instituting a range of measures, each resorting to the toolkits that are most familiar to them. These responses include medical treatments, political decisions, scientific research, reports and commentary in the media, legal deliberations, and the mobilization of familial resources. In other words, the crisis itself has infected the whole of society. Moreover, it has triggered not only societal immune reactions, but also rejection responses and inflammatory reactions.

Overall, the reactions of the diverse sectors of society appear to be marked by feelings of uncertainty, inability to reconcile conflicting goals, and not least a chronic sense of inadequacy in the face of ever-changing demands. In his lecture, sociologist Armin Nassehi poses the question of what the crisis tells us about the structure of modern societies, and what they can learn from it.

Prof. Dr. Armin Nassehi holds the Chair of General Sociology at LMU Munich. His research focuses on problems in cultural and political sociology, the sociology of religion and the sociology of knowledge and science.

Video (in German)

The coronavirus pandemic and the anxieties it has aroused provide an ideal setting for the propagation of what is now known as fake news, i.e. the deceitful dissemination of objectively false information. Conspiracy theories continue to spring up and some of them have been widely adopted. In her lecture, LMU philosopher Monika Betzler describes the elements that have given rise to this phenomenon, unravels the reasoning errors and basic misapprehensions that underlie it, and explains why conspiracy theories have been so successful, in spite of all their manifest defects. In addition, she will suggest ways to prevent fake news and conspiracy theories from gaining traction in the political sphere.

Prof. Dr. Monika Betzler directs the graduate school on “Ethics in Practice” and the Executive Master’s Program in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at LMU. She is currently Vice Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, Theory of Science and the Study of Religion, and holds the Chair of Practical Philosophy and Ethics.

Video (in German)

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a worldwide recession. Millions of jobs are at risk, levels of public-sector debt are rising and large numbers of firms are facing the imminent threat of insolvency. Governments and central banks have responded by providing fiscal stimuli and extra liquidity to mitigate the economic damage. Conversely, the measures taken to restrict public life – with a view to reducing the incidence of infection by the virus – have been much criticized for exacerbating the plight of the economy. In addition, the situation has triggered fears of unsustainable levels of debt or an increase in the inflation rate. In his lecture, Clemens Fuest will analyze the current state of the economy, and outline what needs to be done to overcome the crisis. He will also discuss the long-term repercussions of the pandemic for the economy and society in general.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Clemens Fuest is President of the ifo Institute – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research and Director of the Center for Economic Studies (CES) at LMU Munich, where he holds the Chair of Economics and Public Finance.

Video (in German)

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a deep impact on all sectors of social and professional life – including the practice of university teaching. Virtually overnight, lecturers were forced to abandon in-person teaching and transfer their courses to the digital domain. And while universities and their students are generally better equipped with digital devices and digital infrastructure than most schools, the prevailing tertiary teaching-learning culture has so far been strongly analog.

In her lecture, Anne Frenzel reports both from her personal perspective and from a educational-psychological point of view how the pandemic-related switch to teaching and learning in the digital space is affecting instructors’ and learners’ subjective experiences, especially with regard to their motivation and emotions. She also presents early findings of one of her own ongoing empirical projects, together with results of student evaluations of the digital courses. Finally, Frenzel outlines the conclusions that can be drawn for a future in which the best of both worlds, digital and analog, could unite.

Professor Dr. Anne Frenzel is the Director of the Master’s Program “Psychology in the Learning Sciences” at LMU. Her research focuses on the role of the emotions in teaching and learning processes.

Video (in German)

From the very beginning, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has presented healthcare professionals with huge challenges. In the initial phase, the most urgent tasks were (i) coping with the influx of Covid-19 patients in the first wave, (ii) restructuring the LMU Medical Center to ensure that services for all other patients could be maintained, and (iii) initiating and implementing research projects to learn more about the disease itself. Much of the burden during this period fell on the shoulders of junior researchers at LMU, who have since put in a tremendous amount of work and accomplished a great deal. On this occasion, three of them will talk about their work during the pandemic.

The clinical course of COVID-19 has turned out to be extraordinarily variable. Many of those infected either show mild symptoms or none at all, while others develop severe disease and require intensive care. The range of manifestations greatly complicated the responses of clinicians and researchers alike, and forced them to confront a series of difficult questions. What sections of the population are at greatest risk? Are there factors which protect against COVID-19? How can particularly serious cases be rapidly recognized as such? Dr. Johannes C. Hellmuth will describe the contribution that the LMU Medical Center has made to the understanding of COVID-19, and report on the national networks that have been set up to deal with the many and varied repercussions of the pandemic.

Johannes C. Hellmuth, M.D. 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).

What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on the care of cancer patients in a large Oncological Hospital? And what additional risks does COVID-19 entail for cancer patients and immunosuppressed patients generally? In her lecture, Dr. Elham Khatamzas will report on the observations she has made on immunosuppressed patients infected with the virus and on patients who have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infections.

Elham Khatamzas, M.D., 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.

The social isolation and loneliness that result from lockdown measures designed to curb the propagation of COVID-19 are a problem for the population as a whole. But they are more particularly stressful for individuals with psychological illnesses. Furthermore, the pandemic exposes those who work in the health services – regardless of whether or not their work brings them into contact with COVID-19 patients – to an unusual combination of stress factors. These include longer working hours, difficult decisions on triage, frustration and exhaustion – all of which present potential threats to their own mental health. This in turn raises a number of important issues. How are individuals with psychological illnesses coping with the additional stresses associated with the pandemic? How serious are the levels of stress to which staff in the health services are currently exposed? Can a simple, but accurate predictive model be developed that (i) makes it possible for staff to assess their own levels of psychological stress, and (ii) enables them to choose the best form of intervention?

Kristina Adorjan, M.D. 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.

Oliver T. Keppler, M.D., Professor of Virology and Chairman of LMU‘s Max von Pettenkofer Institute, will chair the session.

Video (in German)

Infection with SARS-CoV-2 can cause a respiratory disease which, in serious cases, can result in acute respiratory distress. As a rule, such patients require invasive oxygenation, and this in turn can lead to complications such as pulmonary embolisms or the formation of blood clots in the veins.

In his lecture, LMU cardiologist Steffen Massberg will describe the mechanisms that lead to obstruction of the blood vessels. In COVID-19 patients who are at risk of lung failure, inflammatory reactions take place that activate platelets and trigger the process of clotting, which ultimately leads to the blocking of blood vessels in the lung. Net-like structures consisting of DNA and proteins make a significant contribution to the formation of these occlusions, as they help to stabilize developing clots. Prof. Massberg will also explain how this – initially localized – process of ‘immunothrombosis’ can develop into a systemic increase in the risk of clot formation (coagulopathy) in such cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Finally, he considers the implications of this process for the treatment of COVID-19 and for efforts to prevent the development of intravenous thrombi.

Prof. Dr. med. Steffen Massberg holds the Chair of Internal Medicine and Cardiology at LMU and is Director of Medical Clinic I, which is part of the Munich University Medical Center. His primary research interest focuses on the role of the immune response in the pathology of inflammatory diseases.

The emergence of mutational variants of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 raises fundamental questions in relation to the future trajectory of the pandemic, the prospects of attaining herd immunity, and the efficacy of vaccines. New genetic variants can only become established when mutations confer a selective advantage on the pathogen. In the UK, South Africa and Brazil, such mutants have arisen, and have spread more rapidly than pre-existing strains. Will this happen in Germany? What are the implications for the effectiveness of vaccines? How can national and global vaccination strategies be modified to cope with novel variants? These are among the questions that Michael Hoelscher will address in his lecture. As well as reviewing the course of the global epidemic, he will focus in detail on its evolution in Munich and, in particular, on the data collected during the population-based KoCo19 study. Finally, he will consider what the insights gained so far can tell us about the probable future course of the epidemic.

Prof. Dr. med. Michael Hoelscher heads the Division of Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine at LMU, and has been involved in a variety of studies of coronaviruses. The first case of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Germany was diagnosed in his Institute.

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