COMBATING COVID-19. The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation is investing SEK 53 million on a national research program to study the effects of COVID-19 vaccines. Of the 10 projects receiving funding, two are being led by researchers at the University of Gothenburg. Anna Lundgren is coordinating a project on immune response after vaccination among individuals who were previously infected by COVID-19, individuals who were unexposed, and immunosuppressed individuals. Fredrik Nyberg is leading a register-based study, where many factors and complex correlations for COVID-19 vaccinations are studied.
The vaccines currently used in Sweden have already been through thorough clinical trials and quality analyses, but it is still important to study their impact on the population by following their molecular and immunological effects and their effects on subgroups of patients and to study the possibility of undesirable side-effects.
“Both for the situation we are currently in and for possible future epidemics, it is important that we study as many sides of this virus as possible and the possibilities we have for combating it. To this end, the foundation has awarded SEK 235 million for COVID-19 related projects, of which SEK 53 million is going to vaccination research,” says Peter Wallenberg Jr, chair of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.
Teamwork and data sharing
The new research program will focus on team science and effective data sharing, so that the results can benefit society and potentially the national vaccination program. The results, methods, sample availability and other data will be shared through the national COVID-19 data portal coordinated by SciLifeLab.
“It is really important to understand the immunological and molecularly effects of the different COVID-19 vaccinations in detail and in different age groups. It is worth noting that we are announcing the results of the call today, only one month after the call closed. I want to thank our staff at the Operations Office, the expert peer reviewers and the SciLifeLab Board for a very fast turnaround time so that this important research can get started quickly,” says Olli Kallioniemi, director of SciLifeLab.
Immune response after vaccination
Of the ten projects that received grants, two are led from the University of Gothenburg.
Anna Lundgren, senior lecturer at the Institute of Biomedicine, is an immunologist and researcher on the immune response in mucous membranes during different types of infections and vaccinations. Since the spring 2020, she has been taking part in a large research collaboration that has also previously been funded through KAW’s and SciLifeLab’s initiatives on COVID-19 research. Both clinical and experimental researchers are taking part in the project, including Magnus Gisslén, John Söfteland, Susannah Leach, Mats Bemark and Davide Angeletti.
Thanks to the efforts of many staff members, a large number of samples from both COVID-19 patients and medical care staff have been collected, both prior to becoming infected and after. About 500 of these research subjects will now be followed up with more detailed immune analyses.
“We have learned a lot about COVID-19 infections, but there is still much we do not know. Pharmaceutical companies have tested their vaccines on healthy subjects, but there are many people who have reduced immune responses for different reasons,” says Anna Lundgren.
“We are particularly interested in what the immune response looks like after vaccination of individuals who receive medications that suppress their immune responses after an organ transplantation or who are born with immunodeficiencies.”
The project also studies if the immune response continues over a longer period in the form of antibodies, T cells and memory cells.
Impact of the vaccination program
Visiting Professor Fredrik Nyberg and his research team at the Institute of Medicine will conduct a register study to examine the impact of the vaccination program on the population and how it impacts the occurrence of COVID-19, and they will identify possible issues with safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Register-based research combines many types of information from several different registers and databases, making it possible to study a variety of factors and complex correlations.
Nyberg’s study is being conducted nationwide and includes all Swedes that have been infected with COVID-19, all those that have experienced suspected side effects, and a selected control group. Monitoring using register data will be on-going, and the researchers will be able to produce well-founded answers to pressing research questions affecting people’s lives and their health.
“The project will support public health and patient safety. It will be a unique resource using time-sensitive data and thus provide continuous, updated information for immunological research on SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.”
Read more in the press release from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW): https://kaw.wallenberg.org/en/press/kaw-supported-scilifelab-program-covid-19-vaccine-effects-now-launches-ten-new-projects
BY: ELIN LINDSTRÖM & KATARINA ENGLUND & KAW
PHOTO: ISTOCK, PRIVATE & ANNA VÖRÖS