The volunteers are not only asked about their lifestyle, previous illnesses and medication, but are also medically examined (blood pressure, skin etc.). In particular, laboratory tests are also carried out to check immune functions. For this purpose, extensive laboratory tests are made using biological samples such as blood, stool and smears of the nasal mucosa.
Routine parameters are measured in the blood, such as liver and kidney values. The test persons can receive the results on request. In addition, specific immune reactions against viruses, for example against influenza and hepatitis viruses, are analysed, e.g antibodies and T-cells. The transcriptome also plays a role, i.e. all RNA molecules produced in the cell, and epigenetics – the factors that determine how active a gene is and how a cell thus develops. In addition, all the genes reads (the exome) are sequenced – with the aim of detecting severe infections or gene mutations. Of course the strict rules of data protection are complied. The samples are also used by the researchers for immune stimulation – for example with corona antigens. “We are conducting specific cellular tests with SARS-CoV-2 antigens in all participants in order to better understand the age-dependent immune mechanisms in the defense against this virus in comparison to other viral infections,” says Professor Werfel.
In addition, the stool samples will be used to investigate the microbiome of the intestine. This includes the question of whether there are special characteristics that can lead to viral infections in old age. This is because the microbiome can influence the immune system both positively and negatively.
“All the data obtained will help to gain insight and treat the individual susceptibility to infections. This is a historical opportunity,” says Professor Werfel.