COVID-19 autopsy and biosample registry

What happens inside the body of a person seriously ill with COVID-19? What causes death ultimately? Using tissue samples from deceased COVID-19 patients, for example, researchers have been able to detect severe organ changes and derive recommendations for treatment. In this way, comprehensive published studies conducted at Heidelberg University Hospital showed as early as mid-2020 that blood clotting should be prophylactically inhibited in severely ill patients and that thrombolysis should also be considered for individual patients.

State of Baden-Württemberg grants € 1.8 million in funding

Due to the great relevance of autopsies for COVID-19 research, the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts provides € 1.8 million in funding for the “COVID-19 autopsy and biosample registry BW”. Partners of the network are the university hospitals in Freiburg, Heidelberg, Mannheim, Tübingen and Ulm. The aim is to record research findings, biospecimens and associated metadata in a timely manner, bring them together and make them available for scientific projects and further analyses. Within the framework of the joint project, important COVID-19-specific research results have already been achieved and published by the university pathologies. “With the autopsy and biosample registry, we are making a valuable contribution to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Prof. Dr. Peter Schirmacher, director of the Heidelberg Institute of Pathology and head of the BioMaterialBank Heidelberg (BMBH).

Autopsies conducted in Heidelberg since March 2020

The registry is coordinated by the Heidelberg site of the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF). The DZIF tissue bank is part of the BioMaterialBank Heidelberg (BMBH) and a partner of the German Biobank Alliance (GBA). More than 3,000 tissue samples from COVID patients are already stored within the tissue bank. Since March 2020, standardised autopsies of COVID-19-related deaths have been performed regularly at the Institute of Pathology at Heidelberg University Hospital. Both formalin-fixed and cryo-preserved tissue samples of the heart, lung, stomach, intestine, kidney, liver, spleen, pharyngeal tonsils and thymus have been preserved within the tissue bank.

Research requests via DZIF tissue bank and Sample Locator

More than 100 autopsies have already been performed at the sites participating in the COVID-19 autopsy and biosample registry BW; the resulting sample collectives are available for research requests. Interested scientists can contact the DZIF tissue bank for this purpose. An overview of the samples in the Heidelberg collection is also provided by the “Sample Locator” – the online search tool of the German Biobank Node (GBN).

National project: DEFEAT PANDEMIcs

With the DEFEAT PANDEMIcs project, the Network of University Medicine (NUM) is simultaneously establishing a Germany-wide autopsy network for pandemic cases. The German registry for COVID-19 autopsies (DeRegCovid), established in April 2020, will serve as the electronic platform for collected data and biospecimens from autopsies of COVID patients. Most of the pathological, neuropathological and forensic medical institutes of the German university hospitals are involved in DEFEAT PANDEMIcs, including Heidelberg University Hospital.

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