SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with high mortality and morbidity and no vaccines are currently available. Three stages of disease progression are recognized.


        STAGE I

          STAGE II

                STAGE III

   The moderate stage

     More severe stage

 A late phase in the severe stage 

Patients present themselves
at the hospital ward in need
for moderate oxygen demand. These patients could benefit
from anti-viral and/or anti-inflammatory drugs.

Patients are admitted to ICU, showing signs of severe
systemic inflammation.
These patients will probably mainly benefit from anti-inflammatory drugs. 

Patients are at the ICU
progress to multiple organ failure. These patients are also likely to develop lung fibrosis. 




The main objective of this trial that is run by UZ Leuven/KU Leuven, is to clinically and immunologically characterize patients hospitalized in UZ Leuven due to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Samples from patients in the three disease stages will be collected (blood, nasal/rectal swab, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and post-mortem tissue samples) to identify host factors that mediate (hyper)susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2. These data will be used to help guide physicians in treating COVID-19 patients.  

As such, the project consortium concentrates on:  

  • Epidemic control: Novel molecular insights in COVID-19 disease progression as a guide to treat patients in the different stages of the disease. 

Facts & Figures

Start date:
End date:
COVID19 call

Thematic area

Epidemic control  

Pathogen epidemics will be controlled or new molecular insights are translated into health and prevention policies. 

Contribution to the project

The contagious trial is run by UZ Leuven/KU Leuven and the consortium consists of partners from the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology, VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology, VIB-KU Leuven center for Brain & Disease Research, KU Leuven researchers and clinicians from KU Leuven/UZ Leuven.   

Patient samples will be collected to set up a biobank from ICU (prof. Joost Wauters) and ward (prof. Els Wauters) patient samples. Experiments on highly infectious respiratory samples will be performed in the Biosafety Level 3 facility of prof. Johan Neyts.

Host specific factors that can contribute to susceptibility of the patient to a severe disease course will be investigated using single-cell multi-omics sequencing (prof. Diether Lambrechts), cytokine profiling (prof. Carine Wouters, prof. Patrick Matthys, prof. Paul Proost), flow cytometry (prof. Stephanie Humblet-Baron, prof. Adrian Liston), mass cytometry (prof. Frederik De Smet, prof. Sabine Tejpar), NETosis (prof. Kim Martinod), microbiome profiling (prof. Jeroen Raes) and genetics (prof. Diether Lambrechts, prof. Isabelle Meyts). 


The objective of the VIB-GC program is to significantly increase the societal impact of VIB, taking its scientific leadership to the next level of global visibility. Strategies between partners towards sharing of capabilities (samples, data, infrastructure) are prerequisite and motivated within the VIB GCP, aligned with the general principles of RRI and the Open Science policy of VIB in particular.  

Additionally, there is a close collaboration with the central biobank in the partner institutions: Biobank  and UZleuven .

Expected impact 

Extensively characterizing COVID-19 patients will facilitate identification of the at-risk patient subpopulation, will greatly contribute to our understanding of the underlying pathophysiology and will guide physicians in treating patients. Moreover, knowledge of the at-risk population could better guide future vaccination efforts to prevent secondary outbreaks and reduce casualties.   

Joost Wauters discusses the impact on patient care: “To gain more insight into the immune response during the different stages of COVID-19 infection, we study specific patient groups. This will allow us to progress towards a more fine-grained assessment of risk for individual patients.”  

Diether Lambrechts highlights how this project will contribute to our understanding of COVID-19 infection: “Thanks to the extensive database of tissue samples we will be able to do single-cell analysis of the immune response in patients’ bodies. We will also be able to immunophenotype the different affected tissues, which will give us a more detailed look at how the viral infection takes hold and causes damage.”