A $4 million gift from the W. M. Keck Foundation will help scientists at the Keck School of Medicine of USC explore how the new coronavirus is transmitted, develop treatments and work with public health officials to curtail its spread, it was announced Friday.

Alongside crucial scientific research into the biology and treatment of COVID-19, experts may use the donation to collaborate with public health specialists to share important health information and understand the impact of the virus on local communities, according to USC.

“Our scientists at USC are working tirelessly to understand how this virus spreads and affects vulnerable populations,” USC President Carol L. Folt said. “This generous gift from the W. M. Keck Foundation will be a wonderful boost to their lifesaving work, and will free up other resources so we can continue to reach out to our communities in this time of great need. We are grateful for this critical support.”

The new coronavirus fund bolsters research and related activities in five areas: virology and immunology, diagnosis and treatment, population health, community outreach and research infrastructure.

In addition to helping USC scientists accelerate their existing efforts to understand and address the COVID-19 pandemic, the gift has another intangible but equally important effect, said Laura Mosqueda, dean of the Keck School of Medicine and professor of family medicine.

“At a time when labs have been shut down and everyone is keen to get back to work, this is a terrific morale boost,” Mosqueda said. “We have an outstanding group of researchers and educators who will utilize these funds for the public good.”

Steve Keck, co-president of the W. M. Keck Foundation, said the new funding will enable USC researchers and community engagement experts to strengthen their response to the coronavirus.

Joe Day, co-president, added that the foundation’s board was “proud that USC is taking advantage of the important role this renowned research institution has in the health and economy of Los Angeles and its responsibility to serve this community.”

USC scientists might use the funding to study how the new coronavirus spreads, including the basic biology of how it infects the human body and whether some people are especially susceptible. Researchers may also use funds to develop medications and other treatment approaches, ranging from the use of stem cells to infusions of plasma from people who have recovered from the virus, according to the university.

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