New grant for research into Zika virus
Researchers at the MRC Centre for Virus Research at the University of Glasgow will be working with a team at the Research Center Aggeu Magalhães at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Pernambuco, Brazil after receiving a joint award of around £300,000 to fund research into the Zika virus.
The main objective of the project is to study the presence and epidemiology of the Zika virus in Brazil and to understand how the immune system of people infected with the virus responds to the infection. Genetic techniques will be used to support diagnostics and vaccine development studies as well as helping to understand the biology of the Zika virus during infection.
The research will be led by the University of Glasgow’s Dr Alain Kohl, alongside Professor Rafael Freitas de Oliveira Franca in Brazil, following an agreement by the MRC and the Foundation for Science and Technology of the state of Pernambuco (FAPERPE) to jointly fund a research proposal to investigate the viral features and host responses to Zika virus with a view to designing new preventative strategies. This agreement follows a joint call for research applications under the UK Government’s Newton Fund.
Dr Alain Kohl said: “We welcome the award from the MRC to fund research into the investigation of the viral features and host responses to Zika virus.
“Our research, alongside the work carried out by Professor Rafael Freitas de Oliveira Franca in Brazil, will focus on understanding the epidemiology of the Zika virus in Brazil and how people infected with the virus respond. The work will be used to support vaccine development studies as well as helping to understand the biology of the Zika virus.”
The MRC has also announced a 'Rapid Response' call for research applications aimed at tackling the risk posed by the Zika virus. Initially, up to £1 million from the Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund will be made available to researchers applying for grants to investigate the nature of the virus, its transmission and the potential links to neurological conditions including microcephaly.
Possible avenues of research to be funded by this initiative could include:
• Epidemiological characteristics, e.g. vector transmission potential, geographical spread, interactions with other arboviruses, changing viral genotype, host susceptibility and incubation period, etc
• Development of more specific rapid diagnostic tests for Zika virus that can reduce misdiagnosis that may occur due to the presence of dengue or other viruses in a test sample
• Viral pathogenicity, association with and potential mechanistic links to neurodevelopment / microcephaly
• Mechanisms of infection and host immune responses and potential therapeutics / vaccines
Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson, said: “The spread of the Zika virus to a growing number of countries in Central and South America has now been recognised as a global emergency by the WHO. Zika needs to be fought on a number of fronts, and the UK’s world-class scientists have an important role to play. Thanks to the Government’s decision to protect the science budget and establish a new Global Challenges Research Fund, UK scientists can immediately start tackling this problem."
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First published: 8 February 2016