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Alba Grifoni receives ISSNAF award for COVID-19 research

New award from the Embassy of Italy honors an Italian scientist making breakthroughs in a global crisis

LA JOLLA—Instructor Alba Grifoni, PhD., an infectious disease researcher at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI), has received the Embassy of Italy Award to Honor Young Italian Researchers for Research to Fight COVID-19 from the Italian Scientists and Scholars in North America Foundation (ISSNAF). The award honors Grifoni’s significant advances in understanding how the immune system responds to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Grifoni works to predict how immune cells respond to viruses. Since January, she has studied how the body’s T cells recognize and target SARS-CoV-2. This research has advanced our understanding of how the immune system can fight off the virus and develop immunity.

“I’m really honored,” says Grifoni. “I also want to acknowledge the teamwork that was behind this science.”

Dr. Alba Grifoni

Dr. Alba Grifoni

Grifoni, who was born in Rome, works in the lab of fellow Italy native Alessandro Sette, Dr. Biol. Sci., a professor at LJI. Grifoni explains that the lab has always aimed to establish strong international collaborations. Before the pandemic, Grifoni had worked with scientists overseas to better understand the impact of dengue virus. At the time that COVID-19 started spreading rapidly, Grifoni and Sette immediately began collaborating with scientists in Italy, one of the countries first hit hardest by the virus.

“It was very important also to share differences in our science and our perspectives,” says Grifoni. “I think it really enriched my research.”

In May, Grifoni served as first author of the first detailed analysis of immune response to SARS-CoV-2. This paper—which was one of several high-impact COVID-19 papers Grifoni co-authored this year—has earned the recognition of being the highest cited study in the field of immunology in the last 12 months.

ISSNAF award presenter Camillo Ricordi, M.D., also cited Grifoni’s co-discovery that 50 percent of people not exposed to SARS-CoV-2 already have T cells that can recognize the virus, likely due to previous exposure to common cold coronaviruses. This Science study, a collaboration with Sette, LJI Professor Shane Crotty, Ph.D., and LJI Assistant Research Professor Daniela Weiskopf, PhD., could help explain the dramatic range in severity in COVID-19 cases.

“This work was both timely and important,” said Ricordi.

Grifoni says ISSNAF has already helped further fuel her research by featuring her work in a virtual symposium, where she connected with other Italian scientists working on COVID-19. “It was good to hear their feedback, and I believe that will also help us establish future collaborations,” says Grifoni.

Learn more about ISSNAF

More on LJI’s COVID-19 research

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About La Jolla Institute for Immunology
The La Jolla Institute for Immunology is dedicated to understanding the intricacies and power of the immune system so that we may apply that knowledge to promote human health and prevent a wide range of diseases. Since its founding in 1988 as an independent, nonprofit research organization, the Institute has made numerous advances leading toward its goal: life without disease.