The Immunology Department is responsible for teaching in Immunology at the Vetsuisse Faculty Bern and consists of four research groups concerned with the interaction of the immune system with infectious agents, especially viruses. We investigate how the immune system responds to infections and why certain viruses cause disease. To this end we use complex cell culture systems, consisting of phagocytes (scavenger cells), antigen-presenting cells (dendritic cells), epithelial cells and stem cells. Where possible, we use the resulting knowledge in the development of novel vaccines.

The diseases studied at present are foot-and-mouth disease, classical swine fever, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, influenza, diseases of small ruminants caused by lentiviruses, and enzootic pneumonia in pigs. In Immunology we also have a focus on zoonoses caused by flaviviruses such as Japanese encephalitis virus and Zika virus.


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The in vitro research was recognised for the development of an alternative method to animal experimentation

This prize for the research for alternative methods of the Fondation Egon Naef pour la recherche in vitro was awarded to PD Dr Marco Alves of IVI and the University of Bern. The researcher and his team developed an in vitro model of the human placenta, thereby enabling a significant reduction in animal experimentation.

Marco Alves has decided to use the whole amount of the CHF 10'000 prize to finance in vitro research projects.

Publications linked with the prize:

SARS-CoV-2 can infect and propagate in human placenta explants

Generation of precision-cut slice cultures of human placenta

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Novel in vitro model: an alternative method to animal testing

As part of the research on the human placenta as a target of SARS-CoV-2 (Fahmi et al, 2021), the research team of PD Dr. Marco Alves (Institute of Virology and Immunology IVI and the University of Bern) has developed an in vitro model of the human placenta. This physiological model provides a platform that paves the way for a significant replacement of in vivo approaches when evaluating pathophysiological mechanisms of virus infection during pregnancy. This new model contributes to promote the 3R Principle that aims to replace, reduce, and refine animal experimentation, and more particularly the principle of replacement.

By publishing the exact method, as developed, in the scientific journal STAR Protocols (Fahmi et al., 2022), other research teams will be able to reproduce this technique – which ultimatly may help to reduce the use of animals whenever possible.

Animal experimentation is applied to address a biological problem when no alternative method exists. The Institute of Virology and Immunology IVI is committed to the development of alternative methods.


Method of the novel in vitro model: from placental sampling to tissue culture, thereby enabling subsequent studies of the human placenta, for example after an infection from SARS-CoV-2.

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The human placenta, a target of SARS-CoV-2

What happens in the human placenta after SARS-CoV-2 infection? The IVI and CHUV research teams found that SARS-CoV-2 can infect the cells of the human placenta and that the virus can proliferate and infect neighboring placental cells.

Last modification 19.01.2023

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University of Bern
Institute of Virology and Immunology (IVI)
Länggassstrasse 122
3001 Bern

Phone +41 (0)31 684 24 73 /
(0)58 469 93 77

Prof. Dr. A. Summerfield

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