BRCCH Supports Travel Fellowships for [BC]2 Basel Computational Biology Conference
The BRCCH provides three travel fellowships (1’666 CHF each) to PhD students and early career scientists aiming to attend the [BC]2 Basel Computational Biology Conference. Early career researchers involved in paediatric research and those from low- and middle-income countries are encouraged to apply.
More information and APPLY at the [BC]2 website.
The [BC]2 Basel Computational Biology Conference, September 13-15, 2021, will be more interdisciplinary than ever this year, with sessions on cancer and precision medicine, machine learning, clinical population genomics, pathogens and immune system, single-cell biology, evolutionary biology and ecology.
The conference will offer many opportunities for interactivity including the ELIXIR Innovation and SME Forum to learn about solutions for preventive medicine and the whole learning ecosystem of health, as well as tutorials and workshops providing an informal setting to discover and discuss about the latest bioinformatics methods.
The BRCCH and EDCTP
Start a New Joint Initiative
The BRCCH and the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) are to support three multi-institutional, multi-country collaborations for research to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Three collaborative projects are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with research to improve the surveillance and management of COVID-19. The projects are a result of a synergistic Collaboration Initiative by EDCTP and the BRCCH to drive interdisciplinary efforts to combat global health challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Collaboration Initiative:
In 2020, each organisation launched its own emergency mechanism to support research in COVID-19. The EDCTP mechanism focused on efforts in sub-Saharan Africa to manage and/or prevent the spread of COVID-19 and targeted four thematic research gaps: therapeutics, diagnostics, serological testing, and understanding of the natural history of infection. The BRCCH Fast Track Call initiative focused on research within diagnostics, immunology and medical interventions that will help mitigate medical and public health challenges in the short term, and to also contribute solutions that will lead to better preparedness and reduced global disease burden in the long term.
Realising the potential for collaborative efforts, the EDCTP and the BRCCH initiated dialogues between Principal Investigators (PIs) in their respective programmes. BRCCH-EDCTP consortia that wished to pursue a potential future collaboration were then invited to submit formal applications for external peer-review. The applications underwent evaluation in November 2020.
This joint BRCCH-EDCTP Collaboration Initiative will support three projects that range from immunology to diagnostics and health screening strategies for COVID-19 in low- and middle-income country (LMIC) settings. The projects, which are a complementary extension to the ongoing research activities being funded by BRCCH and EDCTP, will launch in early 2021 and will be supported with 900,000 CHF in total funding over a period of two years. Involved BRCCH researchers are based in the centre's partner institutions: ETH Zurich, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and the University Hospital Basel.
Researchers do community outreach in remote areas in Lesotho in order to increase access to essential health services. Image: SolidarMed & Swiss TPH
Improving Access to SARS-CoV-2 Screening and Testing through Community-based COVID-19 Case-Finding and the Use of Digital Solutions in Lesotho and Zambia
In a collaboration between teams in Lesotho and Zambia, Dr Klaus Reither (Swiss TPH, BRCCH grantee for the MistraL project) and Dr Kwame Shanaube (Zambart, EDCTP grantee for the TREATS-COVID project) will investigate the effects of community-led interventions, rapid point-of-care diagnostics and swab self-collection in mitigating the COVID-19 epidemic in these African nations. The project will be carried out by 14-member consortium, including collaborators based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, SolidarMed, FIND and KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation.
African-European Partnership for Development and Deployment of Rapid SARS-CoV-2 RNA and Antigen Detection Assays
Prof Janos Vörös, Prof Wendelin Stark (both ETH Zurich, BRCCH grantee for a Rapid Diagnostic Test project and for the peakPCR project, respectively) and Dr Ahmed Abd El Wahed (University of Leipzig, EDCTP grantee for the Suitcaselab project) aim to advance novel and rapid COVID-19 diagnostic technologies tailored for poor-resource and emergency settings. Including partners in France and seven African countries, the 13-PI consortium will co-develop a rapid lateral flow diagnostic assay, a portable PCR device operated in a mobile suitcase lab for use in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The consortium includes collaborators from the Institut Pasteur de Paris, Institut Pasteur de Dakar, Institute Pasteur de Madagascar, KNUST, University of Ibadan, INRB, University of Khartoum and Makerere University.
COVID-19 Antibody Repertoires in Infection and Vaccination
The project co-led by Prof Andreas Moor (ETH Zurich, BRCCH grantee for a B-Cell Immunity project) and Dr Julie Fox (King’s College London, EDCTP grantee for the COVAB project) aims to investigate B cell-mediated immunity to SARS-CoV-2 infection in different health states. Specifically, the consortium will investigate and compare the effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection on the antibody repertoire in patients who contract the virus through natural means, in COVID-19 patients who also suffer from HIV and in vaccinated individuals. This consortium involves four researchers from institutions in the UK and Switzerland (in addition to the two named above, the University Hospital Basel).
The mission of the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) is to reduce the social and economic burden of poverty-related diseases in developing countries, in particular sub-Saharan Africa, by accelerating the clinical development of effective, safe, accessible, suitable, and affordable medical interventions for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, neglected infectious diseases, lower respiratory tract infections, diarrhoeal diseases and infectious diseases of epidemic potential, including Ebola and COVID-19 . EDCTP is supported by the European Union under Horizon 2020, its Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.
Fast Track Call (FTC) for
Acute Global Health Challenges
The BRCCH is pleased to announce 11 COVID-19 research consortia: The mandate of the BRCCH is to drive the development of innovative and step-changing health solutions for those who are most in need. With the support of Fondation Botnar, the BRCCH launches a new research initiative to address several critical areas related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Initiative’s objective is to both enable research that will help mitigate medical and public health challenges in the short-term, and to also contribute solutions that will lead to better preparedness and reduced global disease burden in the long-term.
The BRCCH Board approved the FTC external evaluation committee’s recommendation to support 11 projects that seek to deliver immediate impact in the following research areas:
This area encompasses innovative diagnostic approaches that overcome the limitations of current standard assays to provide more rapid, robust and accurate detection of COVID-19 infections. Novel approaches that will enable early detection of outbreaks, social distancing and quarantine measures are sought. Technologies that aim to improve medical interventions for COVID-19, not only those that increase the understanding of viral evolution, are of strong interest. Diagnostics that can be implemented at larger, population-scale and used for surveillance will also be considered. Technologies that are cost-effective, robust in variable conditions, and scalable are of interest (links to E- and M-Health platforms are desirable).
This area addresses translational studies that aim to investigate the role of the human immune system in the pathogenesis of COVID-19. Proposals of high interest include novel approaches to studying the immune response in COVID-19-infected patients and/or those receiving experimental treatments (e.g. vaccines). These could include efforts such as: (i) informing therapeutic and immunisation strategies; (ii) identifying novel markers and therapeutic targets and (iii) providing novel insights into disease progression and outcomes.
This area seeks innovative technology- and molecular-based approaches to improve medical treatment and disease management for COVID-19 patients. Novel therapeutic and preventative approaches to combatting infection and to improving health outcomes are of particular interest, including small molecule therapeutics, biologics, vaccines and immune-enhancing technologies. In addition, this area welcomes innovative digital technologies and medical devices that will improve patient medical care and monitoring, and/or increase the scale of healthcare delivery to reduce disease burden and mortality rates.
Rapid and effective consortia among BRCCH’s four partner institutions, University of Basel including University Hospital Basel (USB), ETH Zurich, University Children’s Hospital Basel (UKBB) and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), and in collaboration with research teams worldwide, will aim to address urgent health needs. The following projects start activities this month.
The project led by Professor Janos Vörös (ETH Zurich) aims to develop a mobile and rapid diagnostic test system for COVID-19 based on lateral flow assays. The project will provide a highly sensitive means for diagnosing SARS-CoV-2 infection at point-of-need.
In a project to be carried out in Lesotho, Dr Klaus Reither (Swiss TPH) and his team will combine artificial intelligence, chest X-ray and antigen-based diagnostic tests to enable and improve diagnosis of COVID-19 patients in low-income settings. This project will be carried out in collaboration with the Foundation for Innovative Diagnostics (FIND).
PCR-based testing has been widely adopted as a method to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection. While this method is sensitive, it is time-consuming and costly. To overcome these challenges, Professor Wendelin Stark (ETH Zurich) and his team aim to develop a portable PCR device that will allow viral testing to be carried out more rapidly and at a lower-cost. The device will have the potential to increase diagnostic capacity not only in high-income countries such as Switzerland, but also in low- and middle-income settings.
Professor Sai Reddy (ETH Zurich) and his team aim to use a novel approach based on molecular barcoding and deep sequencing that will allow up to approx. 5,000 individualised patient samples to be tested for SARS-CoV-2 at once, thereby enabling large-scale surveillance of COVID-19. In addition, the team will develop an innovative high-throughput serology platform for detecting antibodies generated against SARS-CoV-2.
The team led by Professor Daniel Paris (Swiss TPH) aims to develop a simple, low-cost device that can detect antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 using saliva. The project seeks to identify individuals who have been previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and to provide valuable insights into the variations in the immune response to COVID-19.
The team led by Professor Alexandar Tzankov (USB & University of Basel) aims to bring together long-standing expertise in autopsy, pathology, immunology and neurology in Basel to investigate the interactions of SARS-CoV-2 with tissues and organs derived from deceased patients. The project will contribute valuable insights into the pathogenesis of COVID-19 and into the future design of medical interventions for this disease.
The team led by Professor Christoph Hess (University of Basel) aims to investigate the role of the immune response to COVID-19 in patients. The team will explore how biological processes in immune cells, particularly metabolism, and their respective functions are affected in patients with differing levels of disease severity with the aim of improving therapeutic interventions for COVID-19 patients.
Professor Andreas Moor (ETH Zurich) and his team will investigate B cell immunity in convalescent COVID-19 patients with the aim of identifying high-affinity antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 that could be further harnessed for therapeutic interventions.
The project led by Professor Melissa Penny (Swiss TPH) seeks to harness mathematical modelling and machine learning approaches to guide and optimize clinical and public health strategies for diagnostics, therapeutic interventions, disease surveillance and management in the emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professor Thomas Erb (UKBB) and his team aim to integrate innovative pressure sensors in low-cost ventilators to improve patient care and outcomes and to help overcome the global shortage of ventilators.
Professor Randall Platt (ETH Zurich) and his team seek to utilize a CRISPR-based screening approach to identify host factors that are important for SARS-CoV-2 infection for potential target discovery.
Each project is considerably supported for a duration of 2.5 years.
About the Call: The initial call for the FTC circulated on March 27th, 2020. 73 research consortia submitted project proposals on April 8th, with more than 97 (Co-) Investigators involved and total requested budget of approximately CHF 84 million. Applications were evaluated by an external and international panel of reviewers. The panel recommended to support 11 projects (success rate of 15%), which were subsequently approved by the BRCCH Board. The FTC initiative is generously supported by Fondation Botnar.
Multi-Investigator Programme (MIP)
The BRCCH supports the following Multi-Investigator Projects:
Digital Support Systems to Improve Child Health and Development in Low-Income Settings
In many low- and middle-income countries, families living in remote areas often have insufficient access to healthcare and health-related services to adequately support their children in the first years of their life. As a result, children’s early development is often delayed compared to children who grow up without such adversity, limiting their potential to lead a healthy and prosperous life. To address this, a new project led by Professor Günther Fink and Professor Daniel Mäusezahl will assess the extent to which a mobile phone-based interactive app can support the well-being of infants and young children growing up in low-and middle-income countries. Together with the creator of the app, Afinidata, the team will assess this platform through a study involving 2,400 families with young children in San Marcos province, Peru. Through this study, the research team will not only learn about the potential reach and impact of the app, but will also collect feedback from local communities to further improve the app’s ability to support children’s healthy development.
Team members: Professor Günther Fink and Professor Daniel Mäusezahl from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute from Swiss TPH, Professor Ce Zhang from ETH Zürich, Professor Stella Hartinger-Peña from the Cayetano Heredia University (UPCH), Professor Dana McCoy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Andreana Castellanos, CEO of Afinidata.
Burden-Reduced Cleft lip and palate Care and Healing
Dr Andreas Mueller and Dr Barbara Solenthaler aim to simplify and optimize the surgical treatment of cleft lip and palate with the use of machine learning algorithms, smartphone-based images of the malformation, and 3D-printing of tailor-made palatal orthopedic plates. Not only will this project leverage on cutting-edge technology, but it will also aim to reduce the burden of surgery from a multi-step to a single-step procedure. The applicability of the proposed research project is especially relevant for children in low-income settings because current treatments are relatively high in cost and burdensome for the patient and his/her family which, in addition, may face challenges in securing the funding for the multiple surgeries presently needed. The project goals also allow the social reintegration of children with cleft lip and palate.
Team members: Dr Andreas Mueller from the University Hospital and University Children’s Hospital Basel, Dr Barbara Solenthaler from ETH Zurich, Dr Srinivas Gosla Reddy from GSR Institute of Craniofacial Surgery, Hyderabad, India, Dr Andrzej Brudnicki from the Institute of Mother and Child, Warsaw and Cleft Lip and Palate Clinic Formmed, Warsaw and Prof. Markus Gross from Disney Research.
Living Microbial Diagnostics to Enable Individualized Child Health Interventions
Malnutrition, infectious diseases and inflammatory conditions remain leading causes of illness in children living in low-and-middle income countries. In times of sickness and chronic illness, our gut microbes undergo genetic and physiological changes in response to the effects of insults such as infection or disease on the human body. Therefore, the monitoring of the changes in the gut microbiome has the potential to serve as a functional readout of the status of our health. In this project, the team led by Professor Randall Platt aims to develop a CRISPR-based technology involving engineered bacteria which are capable of sensing, remembering, and reporting on the environment within the gut. These bacteria will be utilized to provide an assessment of the nutritional, infection, and inflammation status of the gut and thereby provide a basis for individualizing and improving medical and lifestyle interventions for children and adolescents in the future.
Team members: Professor Randall Platt and Professor Uwe Sauer from ETH Zurich, Professor Dirk Bumann from the University of Basel and Professor Andrew Macpherson from the University of Bern.
Precision Microbiota Engineering for Child Health
From shortly after birth, the large intestine is colonized by billions of bacteria, which make up the intestinal microbiota. We are only just beginning to understand the extent and the mechanisms by which these bacteria influence child health and development. However, current studies support causal roles of these bacteria in diseases as diverse as allergy and autism. Despite this knowledge, we still have no accurate medical intervention to “fix” the microbiota. This project headed by Professor Emma Wetter Slack develops novel tools to engineer the microbiota of individuals with inborn errors of metabolism or necrotizing enterocolitis: these conditions currently have high mortality rates, long-term consequences for child development and limited treatment options. The project aims to replace “bad” bacteria in the microbiome of the gut by “desirable” ones. This modification will be achieved with the help of engineered antibodies, and the direct targeting of individual genes in intestine-resident bacteria by employing CRISPR-Cas9 methodology. Moreover, since microbiota engineering can be applied across a wide range of childhood diseases, this effort has far-reaching implications for the future of medicine.
Team members: Professor Emma Wetter Slack, Professor Viola Vogel, Professor Ferdinand von Meyenn, Professor Johannes Bohacek, and Professor Shinichi Sunagawa from ETH Zürich, and Professor Médéric Diard from the University of Basel, Professor Matthias Baumgartner, Professor Johannes Häberle and Dr Sean Froese from the University Children’s Hospital Zürich, Dr Johannes Trück from the University Children’s Hospital Zürich and University of Zürich, Professor Giancarlo Natalucci from the University Hospital Zürich, Professor Christian Wolfrum from ETH Zürich, Dr Martin Behe from the Paul Scherrer Institute and Professor Adrian Egli from the University Hospital Basel.
About the Call: The initial call for Multi-Investigator Projects circulated in Summer 2019. 28 applications were submitted, with more than 90 (co-) investigators involved and requested funding of approximately CHF 105 million. All submitted MIP applications were rigorously evaluated by an external and independent panel of reviewers. The first evaluation round was completed in September, the second round in October 2019. Applicants that received positive assessments in both evaluation rounds were then invited to an interview-based workshop with our international Project Evaluation Board on 24 October 2019. On the basis of these presentations and all reviews, the evaluation board proposed four projects for funding, which the BRCCH Board accepted at its meeting on 6 December.
Please see more information on the evaluation process. We look forward to promoting innovative and bold research projects for the health and well-being of children and adolescents worldwide!