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“Trailblazing research results”

The virologist Sandra Ciesek talks about the new attention her subject is receiving, outstanding achievements and her hope for the future.

Interview: Clara Krug, 13.02.2021
Frankfurt-based virologist Sandra Ciesek
Frankfurt-based virologist Sandra Ciesek © dpa

Professor Sandra Ciesek runs the medical virology institute at the University Hospital of Frankfurt am Main. In a podcast broadcast by NDR she and her colleague Christian Drosten provide millions of people in Germany with information on topical issues relating to the Covid-19 virus Institut für medizinische Virologie am Universitätsklinikum Frankfurt am Main.

Professor Ciesek, for the past year, you and your subject have been very much in the public spotlight. Would you ever have expected this to happen?
Experts have actually always believed that we would sooner or later face a pandemic with far-reaching consequences for global health, and that a virus would be responsible. However, when the first reports of a new lung disease emerged from Wuhan in January 2020, I did not expect to find ourselves on the brink of a once-in-a-lifetime event. Ever since, my daily life has changed virtually beyond recognition.

The most outstanding achievement in Germany was the development of the mRNA vaccine by Biontech.
Sandra Ciesek, virologist

What conclusions do you draw from the past year as far as virology in Germany is concerned? And what are the outstanding achievements with respect to the Covid-19 pandemic?
I don’t think my subject area in Germany has been the focus of so much public attention ever before. Medical virology is a small field in which colleagues know one another and their specialist areas. Now all virological institutes have been working on the same pathogen; the collaboration has worked wonderfully and has been very enriching. The most outstanding achievement in Germany during the pandemic was in my opinion the development of the mRNA vaccine by Biontech.

How do you view Germany as a place for research in terms of virology and the Covid-19 pandemic?
Germany’s virologists are playing an important international role in Covid-19 research. Thanks to interdisciplinary cooperation, knowledge has been generated about molecular biology, immunology and indeed clinical aspects of Covid-19. However, German virologists have also produced trailblazing research results in other areas besides corona, relating to things such as viral forms of hepatitis and HIV.

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What are your hopes for the coming twelve months?
I hope that we will be able in the next few months to initially vaccinate everyone who is at high risk of suffering a severe case of Covid-19, and that this will quickly reduce the number of deaths. Subsequently, I very much hope that life for everyone will gradually return to normal again as the number of people who are immune rises. I’m already looking forward to my first stroll around the city centre shops without the need to wear a face covering.


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