UofG reseachers join international ZikaPLAN initiative

Published: 26 October 2016

Scientists from the University of Glasgow have united with 25 research organizations to fight Zika Virus and build long-term outbreak response capacity in Latin America.

Scientists from the University of Glasgow have united with 25 research organizations to fight Zika Virus and build long-term outbreak response capacity in Latin America.zika mosquito

The university is among the 25 leading research and public health organizations from Latin America, North America, Africa, Asia, and Europe gathered in Recife for the launch of ZikaPLAN (Zika Preparedness Latin American Network). This global initiative, created in response to a Horizon 2020 funding call by the European Commission’s Directorate-General Research and Innovation, has been formed to address the Zika virus outbreak and the many research and public health challenges it poses.

The initiative takes a comprehensive approach to tackle the Zika threat by:
- addressing the knowledge gaps and needs in the current Zika outbreak to better understand the disease, prevent its spread and educate the affected populations,
- building a sustainable response capacity in Latin America for Zika and other emerging infectious diseases (EID).

The impact of the Zika outbreak took scientists and public health authorities by surprise and hit the most vulnerable populations the hardest. The severity of the outbreak and mutation of the virus have generated numerous research questions.

To take effective measures, health authorities need to know the severity of the disease and its impact on public health, what interventions will work to prevent and stop its spread, and how best to manage and treat those who have been infected. As part of the ZikaPLAN consortium.

The University of Glasgow’s role in ZikaPLAN will be to lead a group of researchers, from Glasgow and elsewhere in the neuroscience component of the programme of work. The overall aim is to determine how Zika virus infects nervous system cells, and how this infection injures cells and drives autoimmunity that results in the neurological syndromes that have been linked to Zika infection.

Professor Hugh Willison from the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation said: “We will exploit our strengths in cell biology, animal models of nervous system pathology, neuroimmunology and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), to understand the pathogenesis of Zika virus infection in the nervous system.

“The breadth of our research teams that bridge fundamental and clinical brain and immune science makes us uniquely well placed to deliver important new discoveries in this field. We are excited and privileged to participate in an initiative that has such importance to human health on a global scale.”

Other research organizations in the ZikaPLAN consortium will look at Zika’s connection with congenital syndromes and neurological complications, and the pathogenesis of severe cases, through a series of clinical studies. They will explore non-vector and vector transmission and risk factors for geographic spread, measure the burden of disease and investigate how the virus has evolved, comparing current and historic strains.

ZikaPLAN will look at novel personal preventive measures, innovation in diagnostics and modelling of vector control and vaccine strategies to inform policy decisions. The social sciences will also play a role in ZikaPLAN, which aims to determine the best communication strategies to keep the affected communities informed.
ZikaPLAN will work closely with two other European Union-funded consortia, ZIKAction and ZikAlliance, to establish a Latin American and Caribbean network.

This network will address the broader issue of building local capacity in Latin America to prepare for and rapidly launch a large-scale research response to emerging infectious disease threats. ZikaPLAN will contribute to developing an inter-epidemic research plan, policy recommendations, training, research networks and dissemination strategies that are designed to permanently strengthen local capacities, beyond the four years of the project. The three consortia will set up common bodies for the global management of scientific programs, communication, and ethical, regulatory and legal issues.

ZikaPLAN is receiving a €11.5 million grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, under grant agreement number 734584.

ZikaPLAN is coordinated by an Executive Board comprised of Prof. Annelies Wilder-Smith as director, representing the University of Umeå, Prof. Eduardo Massad, as deputy director, representing the Fundacao de Apoio a Universidade de Sao Paulo and 15 Work Package leaders from partner organizations. Independent ethical, scientific and industrial advisory boards provide guidance.

The consortium builds on expertise and existing relationships in a variety of research areas related to Zika and emerging infectious diseases. Members come from 5 continents, with 13 from Europe, 8 from Latin America, 2 from the United States, 1 from Africa and 1 from Asia.
ZikaPLAN consortium members:
• Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine, Belgium
• Associação Técnica–Científica de Estudo Colaborativo Latino Americano de Malformações Congênitas, Brazil
• Erasmus Universitair Medisch Centrum Rotterdam, The Netherlands
• Fondation Mérieux, France
• Fundação de Apoio à Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil
• Fundação Oswaldo Fiocruz, Brazil
• Fundación Universidad del Norte, Colombia
• Institut Pasteur de Dakar, Senegal
• Institut Pasteur, France
• Instituto Butantan, Brazil
• Instituto de Medicina Tropical Pedro Kourí, Cuba
• International Vaccine Institute, Republic of Korea
• Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
• La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, USA
• London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK
• Queen Mary University of London, UK
• Schweizerisches Tropen- und Public Health-Institut, Switzerland
• The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford, UK
• The University of Liverpool, UK
• The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
• Ulster University, UK
• Umeå University, Sweden
• Universidad del Valle, Colombia
• Universidade de Pernambuco, Brazil
• University of Glasgow, UK

First published: 26 October 2016

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