University of Glasgow leads COVID-19 research response in Scotland
The University of Glasgow is at the heart of the COVID-19 research response in Scotland and the UK.
Scientists at the University are currently working on a number of vital COVID-19 related research projects, including vaccines, testing, treatment, virus behaviour, health complications and the wider effects of the pandemic on society.
The MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) is working in partnership with colleagues across the UK on a range of crucial research areas related to the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, including working on the new variant first discovered in the UK.
In early 2021 it was announced scientists at the CVR would join G2P-UK, a new national research project to study the effects of emerging SARS-CoV-2 mutations, while the centre would also lead the establishment of CRUSH, a COVID-19 drug screening and resistance hub in Scotland.
Alongside investigating the new variant, since the emergence of COVID-19 researchers in Glasgow have worked on a range of projects to discover and understand more about the novel coronavirus.
Researchers and clinicians in Glasgow will also lead a global study into the longer-term health impacts of COVID-19. The international, multi-site study is launched by ISARIC to measure prevalence and risk factors of long-term health and psychosocial consequences of the disease and is led by Dr Janet Scott, also from the CVR.
Key COVID-19 research milestones at UofG
- On the 23 March the CVR was named as one of 13 key centres in a pan-UK alliance of scientists, working on COVID-19 whole genome sequencing. One of only two facilities involved in Scotland, the CVR will play a key role in the new £20m COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium. The consortium is backed by the government and the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser and is comprised of the NHS, Public Health Agencies, The Wellcome Sanger Institute, and 13 academic institutions, including the University of Glasgow.
- The CVR will use its labs to sequence the genome of the virus from confirmed Scottish patients, and work with partners to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves in populations around the UK. It is hoped that the genetic code could arm public health agencies and clinicians with a unique, cutting-edge tool to combat COVID-19.
- The Scottish Government awarded the University of Glasgow more than £1m to carry out nine COVID-19 rapid response research projects, on areas such as underlying health conditions, treatments and wider pandemic effects.
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with Wellcome and Mastercard, awarded the University of Glasgow and the University of Dundee £225,000 to rapidly screen for potential COVID-19 treatments.
- The CVR has also been announced as playing a key role in new COVID-19 scientific project, led by the University of Edinburgh which has received £4.9m of rapid response government funding to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
- Professor Emma Thomson and Professor Andrew Smith lead the Glasgow arm of the Univerity of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trial - their work is part of the Phase III trial which aims to find out whether the vaccine is effective in humans.
- Researchers from the Institute of Health and Wellbeing published a study that found Black and south Asian ethnic groups in England appear to be at higher risk of COVID-19, as well as hospitalisation with the disease.
- Professor Colin Berry leads the University of Glasgow involvement in PHOSP-COVID - a major UK research study into the long-term health impacts of COVID-19 on hospitalised patient
- UofG is part of a new UK Coronovatirus Immunology Consortium to address key unanswered questions about immunity and COVID-19
- Scientists at UofG find international travel was key to the early introduction and early undetected community transmission of COVID-19 in Scotland
- LifeArc funds the establishment of CRUSH, led by the CVR it will be a new centre for COVID-19 drug screening and resistance
- Professor Massimo Palmarini is named as a co-lead of the UKRI funded G2P-UK, a new national research project to study the effects of emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2
Professor Massimo Palmarini, Director of the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, said: “The CVR and its scientists are at the centre of Scotland’s – and the UK’s – response to the current coronavirus outbreak. As the largest group of virologists in the UK with the facilities to handle samples from infected patients, we are well placed to conduct pivotal research into emerging diseases such as COVID-19.
“In the coming weeks and months, our scientists will continue to work in collaboration with NHS Scotland, sequencing the virus, as well as conducting further research into SARS-CoV-2, its mechanisms of action and potential therapies.”
In early March 2020, CVR scientists working in partnership with the NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre, rapidly sequenced the virus from the first COVID-19 patient confirmed in Scotland.
Scientists from our @CVRinfo have sequenced the #SARS_COV_2 virus from Scotland’s first #Covid_19 case. Speedy sequencing of this new virus is crucial to understanding its origin, and also with informing vital research #WorldChangingGlasgow #coronavirus #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/fpbv78YCv8— University of Glasgow (@UofGlasgow) March 3, 2020
Professor Emma Thomson, Dr Ana Da Silva Filipe and a team of scientists at the Centre, will continue to rapidly sequence SARS-CoV-2 virus from COVID-19 samples obtained from patients, from across Scotland, as long as the outbreak lasts. This genomic information will be made publically available immediately following sequencing and genomic analysis.
The rapid sequencing of COVID-19 samples is essential to further research into the virus. Scientists from around the world are able to extract information from the genetic code – or blueprint – of this new coronavirus, that will ultimately help the creation of vaccines.
Dr Ana Filipe, Head of the CVR’s Viral Genomics facility who led the efforts to rapidly sequence this virus said: “The rapid turnaround of the sample and interpretation of the data was only possible due to excellent coordination between clinicians, diagnostic labs, and research partners. These collaborations are critically important to ensuring an effective response to outbreaks like this. Equally important is the trend of open sharing of reagents and protocols amongst researchers and the public sharing of sequencing data, which has been a defining feature of the response to recent viral epidemics”.
Speaking in the media recently, Professor Emma Thomson said: “We know that we need to respond rapidly to this outbreak, which is why this laboratory has taken the decision to prioritise efforts to sequence and understand this virus.”
The CVR is also a partner in the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium (ISARIC), while Dr Antonia Ho – a Clinical Senior Lecturer at the CVR and Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases – is currently coordinating the recruitment of Scottish patients to the ISARIC UK Clinical Characterisation Protocol., The study aims to answer urgent questions on how to treat patients and control the outbreak in the UK. CVR will act as the repository for samples from patients recruited to this protocol in Scotland, and will undertake full genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 from these samples.
Deaths from a new virus outbreak in China have risen to 17. Dr Antonia Ho is a clinical senior lecturer and consultant in infectious diseases. She told #TheNine that it’s unknown how easily it will transfer between humans. pic.twitter.com/sKXqbQLytu— The Nine (@BBCScotNine) January 22, 2020
The CVR is also working to develop a toolbox of reagents that will help current and future studies of this virus. This includes a partnership with the MRC Phosphorylation Unit at the University of Dundee to generate antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. All of these reagents will be made available to the research community.
The MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) was established in 2010 and represents the UK’s largest grouping of human and veterinary virologists. The CVR is embedded within the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation at the University of Glasgow which provides excellent research opportunities to investigate virus-host interactions and immune response to virus infection. The Centre is funded by the Medical Research Council, the UK’s leading publicly funded biomedical research organisation, and by a variety of other funding bodies including the Wellcome Trust, the BBSRC, EU and others.
Research into the effects of COVID-19 is also taking place across the world. Sally Mtenga is leading an interdisciplinary study entitled' Healthcare and Socio-economic Impacts of COVID-19 on Patients with Diabetes in Tanzania and Kenya'. This study, which involves collaborators in Tanzania and Kenya, was recently awarded £800K funding by NIHR in the GECO funding call.
First published: 26 January 2021