Professor Michael Dreher


Director of the Clinic for Pneumology and Internal Intensive Medicine (Medical Clinic V), Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

Prof. Michael Dreher Copyright: © UK Aachen

It’s our job to provide the basis for decisions

The COVID-19 pandemic began with a stress test both for us at Uniklinik RWTH Aachen and for the region’s healthcare system as a whole. An enormous outbreak of the pandemic in Heinsberg that brought with it a large number of infections in a short period brought many hospitals to their limits.

A lot has happened since then, and we have had to learn many lessons and draw some conclusions: it does not matter how many hospital beds we have if the number of patients continues to rise. It really does matter that the politicians make the right decisions at the right time as this has a considerable effect on all our lives. That is why the science in and of the pandemic, with the discoveries it has made, has done valuable work. This is all the more visible since this work translated directly into political decisions. It is not the scientists, or in this case the doctors, who are responsible for developing protective measures against the Coronavirus. That is not our job.

But with our results and studies, we can provide the basis for such appropriate measures to be taken. In Aachen, right at the start of the pandemic, we created a program in which all those patients treated for COVID-19 in Uniklinik RWTH Aachen were added to a prospective, longitudinal cohort study to monitor the course of their illness.

It was as early as in March 2020 that the first patient entered into the COVID-19 Aachen Study (COVAS). This study has since garnered a great deal of scientific knowledge, both uniquely from Aachen, and also in collaboration with other hospitals. Here is an example: together with scientists from the Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), we at Uniklinik RWTH Aachen launched a pilot study in which we identified two biomarkers that can be used to indicate the severity of a COVID-19 case. The biomarkers were detected by taking blood samples from the patients.

Up until that point, upon the patient’s arrival in hospital, it had been difficult to predict just how severely the course of the illness would progress and what the patient’s chance of survival was simply based on the usual lab work and the existing clinical investigation methods. The results of the pilot study gave us a reason to hope that we would be able to identify COVID-19 patients with a higher chance of mortality, and in turn, we could then treat them more intensively.

The study really shows what our scientists are able to do in such a short period of time. After all, this study was carried out whilst the doctors were performing a full day’s work in hospital. The scientists and the hospitals with their complement of doctors and nurses have proven their worth time and time again throughout the pandemic. We have managed to rise up to the challenge, but we have also had to realize that the resources allocated for such work are limited. We have also had to comprehend that how our results are transferred into society is indeed the final, most important, and decisive step in the process. This is the step that we cannot take alone. Due to its innovative potential, the German Science and Humanities Council in Aachen has honored the multi-discipline location consisting of RWTH and the Innovation Center Digital Medicine at Uniklinik RWTH Aachen as a pioneering beacon for digital medicine in Germany. Joint interaction between Medicine and Technology really is what is needed to drive forward the interdisciplinary digitalization in the field of healthcare.