How does SARS-CoV-2 reach the brain? This is actually a critically important question for which we now have meaningful answers. In this podcast, I have the honor of interviewing Dr. Frank Heppner. His research uses electron microscopy to visualize intact coronavirus particles in the human brain. We now know that COVID-19 is not just a respiratory disease but can affect various other parts of the body including the gastrointestinal system as well as the nervous system. One in three individuals with COVID-19 does in fact have neurological symptoms and we are going to explore this in our time together today.
Here is the bio Dr. Heppner forwarded to us:
Due to my long-lasting expertise as trained physician and Professor for Neuropathology heading the Department of Neuropathology at the Charité – University Medicine Berlin, I have successfully managed to orchestrate high quality clinical work, whilst introducing novel concepts enabling economic success, mainly by offering state-of-the-art diagnostic service to ~ 30 external hospitals and institutions. While I continue to actively conduct clinical-diagnostic work in all areas of neuropathology (neurooncology, neuroinflammation, neurodegeneration, neuromuscular diseases, developmental disorders of the brain, CSF cytology), my research group aims to understand the impact of the immune system on the pathogenesis of neurological diseases such as neurodegenerative diseases, utilizing an interdisciplinary systems medicine approach beyond the borders of compartments and, ultimately, disease entities. Generating and utilizing murine disease models in order to study the contribution of specific immune molecules in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are my major research foci. For example, we were able to show that inhibition of the immune molecules interleukin (IL)-12 and -23 results in a drastic amelioration of Alzheimer’s disease pathology. Besides, I have a long-standing interest in understanding microglia biology in health and disease. To enable translation, I established a biobank in order to collect tissues including brains from patients with neurodegenerative diseases as well as with COVID-19, which supported my translational efforts, lately resulting in the identification of how SARS-CoV-2 can enter the central nervous system in individuals with COVID-19. In parallel, my Department has managed to be a world-leading research institution illustrated by substantial Third Party funding and a constant record of more than 150 peer-reviewed articles in the most prestigious scientific journals such as Science, Nature, Nature Medicine, and Nature Neuroscience amongst others, whilst successfully educating and promoting young fellows that were recruited to top institutions all over the world.
He seems like quite an accomplished individual, and again, we are delighted to have the opportunity to spend time with him.