UofG awarded over £1m from new Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)

Published: 16 December 2016

The University of Glasgow has been awarded over £1m from a new £1.5Bn Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

The University of Glasgow has been awarded over £1m from a new £1.5Bn Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

The research councils have together announced the first phase of health research awards from the new fund, addressing issues affecting people in low and middle income countries (LMICs), using the UK’s world-class research expertise.

The 41 Foundation Awards led by the MRC, and supported by AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC and NERC, have been allocated to support ambitious, novel and distinctive research in non-communicable diseases and infections.

The first phase of the awards is allocating over £20m to short-term projects across 39 UK research organisations working in partnership with up to 32 different countries around the world.

These will complement existing UK strengths in global health research, exploring new, more diverse, opportunities; building broader multidisciplinary links, and new partnerships in LMICs.   

Dr Heather Ferguson, Reader at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, and her team have been granted £578,045 to the development of a new tool for malaria mosquito surveillance to improve vector control.‌

Dr Poppy Lamberton, Senior Lecturer and Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Leadership Fellow at the Wellcome Centre for Molecular Parasitology, is leading a multi-disciplinary, multi-country team whose project has been granted £423,130 to better understand how people in endemic communities manage their infection risk of parasitic diseas Schistosomiasis and how they might change their behaviour. Schistosomiasis is a disease which infects over 240 million people mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.  It causes anaemia, stunted growth and reduced cognitive development in infected children, and results in 200,000 deaths a year. 

The aim of Dr Ferguson’s project is to develop a quick, easy-to-use and cost effective tool based on mid-infrared spectroscopy analysis that can simultaneously determine the species, age and insecticide resistance status of malaria mosquitoes. Having such a tool would facilitate large scale surveillance of mosquito vector populations and their disease transmission potential at a fraction of the cost and time than currently possible.

To achieve this, researchers will first develop this tool using mosquitoes under laboratory conditions and evaluate the technology in the field in collaboration with two of Africa's leading centres of excellence for mosquito control research. This tool could be transformative for entomological surveys, enabling critically important insights to assist the control of malaria vectors and the fight against this disease.

Dr Lamberton’s project will see researchers work in three Ugandan villages to establish how people currently reduce infection risks. They will use social science methods to observe people’s everyday life, and will conduct interviews of groups and individuals about their understanding of the disease, and desired strategies for reducing infections in their communities.

These data will build a picture of high and low risk practices, perceptions of disease risk, and how they may be influenced by factors such as gender, age, and occupation.

Information will then be incorporated into a household survey to quantify what investments in water and sanitation resources are needed to change an individual’s behaviour. Whether this is influenced by an understanding of the parasite lifecycle, and by knowledge of other people’s behaviour will also be explored.

The findings will help researchers identify the most effective and sustainable long-term intervention strategies to reduce transmission and re-infection, with the overall goal of improving the health of children in infected communities.

Declan Mulkeen, the MRC’s Chief of Strategy said: “The five research councils involved in the Foundation Awards have been working collectively to provide new and broader approaches to meet global research challenges. It’s encouraging to see these projects tackling the broader environmental and economic factors affecting health, as well as using new technologies to bring cost-effective treatments within reach.”

He added: “The MRC has a strong track record in Global Health research, often in partnership.  Infectious disease has been the main focus and remains the largest area of funding, but as countries develop, their health needs change.  The Global Challenges Research Fund will enable us to tackle a broader range of health problems, for local and global benefit.

“These awards represent a significant win for global research. We hope that many of the research partnerships being supported will move on to even more ambitious work over the coming years.”

Investments made through the GCRF will address global challenges through multidisciplinary research, strengthening capability for research and innovation within both the UK and low and middle income countries.

ali.howard@glasgow.ac.uk or elizabeth.mcmeekin@glasgow.ac.uk // 0141 330 6557/4831

First published: 16 December 2016