New SNSF project grants for Ben Spycher and Nicola Low

Lukas Fenner

Pictured from right, PD Dr Ben Spycher, Garyfallos Konstantinoudis and Dr Christian Kreis will investigate cancer risks in children exposed to low dose ionising radiation. Pictured from left, Prof Dr med Nicola Low, Dianne Egli-Gany, Michel Counotte and Dr Phi Hung Nguyen are investigating the risks of Zika virus transmission and its complications.

Ben Spycher is a biostatistician and epidemiologist whose research focuses on risk factors of cancer in children. It is clear that medium to high doses of ionising can cause cancer. However, for low doses (<100 mSv), which affect the general population, radiological protection currently relies on extrapolation from higher doses due to a lack of direct epidemiological evidence. Children are more sensitive to radiation than adults are. Recent studies of cancer risks associated with paediatric CT-scans and natural background variation, including a Swiss study by Ben Spycher’s group, have provided new epidemiological evidence for effects of low-dose radiation. This project aims to assess the effects of low dose ionising radiation on cancer risks in children. It will involve a nationwide study of background radiation and childhood cancer in Switzerland, the pooling nationwide data from several European countries, and a meta-analysis of all epidemiological studies involving low dose exposures in young people. Read the project summary here.

Nicola Low is an infectious disease epidemiologist who has been involved in epidemiological research about Zika virus, together with the World Health Organization, since February 2016. Zika virus, carried by mosquitoes, was newly recognised as an infectious cause of congenital abnormalities, including microcephaly and of neurological disease, in 2016 after large outbreaks in the South Pacific Islands in 2013-14 and South America in 2015-16. It is now clear that Zika virus can be transmitted through sexual intercourse as well as by mosquitoes and from mother to child. Scientists have published nearly 3000 research papers about Zika virus infection and complications since 2015 and made important progress. However, substantial questions remain about Zika complications, the risk of sexual transmission and about how common Zika virus infection is in different populations. This project aims to answer these questions in a way that makes the results rapidly available to the whole scientific community and the public. Read the project summary here.