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Ophthalmic Genetics group wins SNSF special COVID-19 grant

The project «Host determinants of severe COVID-19, learning from extreme cases» lead by the co-applicants Carlo Rivolta, Head of the Ophthalmic Genetics group at IOB, and professor at the University of Basel, and Prof. Pierre-Yves Bochud, Head of the infectious diseases immunogenetics team at the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), has been awarded the maximum funding for individual projects of CHF 300 000, for the duration of two years.

The hypothesis for this project is that severe forms of illness after a SARS-CoV-2 infection result from individual genetic predisposition of patients. The researchers will therefore study the influence of genetic factors on the occurrence of complications of COVID-19, especially in young subjects. This could allow specific or even prophylactic treatments for patients with higher risk of severe development of the disease.

More specifically, DNA samples from these individuals will be collected at the CHUV and at other Swiss Hospitals (including the Basel University Hospital) and Mathieu Quinodoz, postdoc in the Rivolta team at IOB, will analyze their genomes to search for common or rare DNA variants that could make them prone to develop severe symptoms.

About the SNSF special COVID-19 call

The SNSF is awarding grants to researchers in Switzerland who contribute to fight the ongoing coronavirus epidemic. The aim is to find out more about the virus and improve clinical and public health measures. Under the special call on coronaviruses, the societal and biomedical aspects of epidemics will be investigated with a total budget of 10 million francs. The projects are expected to improve our understanding of the virus and how it spreads, as well as of the resulting illnesses, their diagnosis and treatment, and will start as of 1 June 2020.

The SNSF launched the special call on coronaviruses on 6 March 2020. The research community submitted 284 applications within the following three weeks. The SNSF responded to this enthusiastic uptake by increasing the budget for the special call from 5 to 10 million Swiss francs. International experts evaluated the applications within a month.

The race for selection was a very competitive exercise: across all disciplines, the SNSF funded 13% of projects submitted. In the biomedicine category, only 22 out of 169 projects submitted have been approved for funding.