University of Glasgow successful in additional Zika funding

Published: 21 March 2016

Researchers at the University of Glasgow, including Institute researchers, have been awarded funding to three projects that will expand work on the Zika virus. Dr Heather Ferguson will lead a grant looking at the ecology of Zika transmission in Ecuador and Colombia. Two other projects in at the College of MVLS will investigate the pathogenesis of Zika-induced disease (Prof Willison, III) and will structurally characterise the virus (Dr Bhella, CVR).

Researchers at the University of Glasgow have been awarded funding to continue and expand their work on the Zika virus.

The grants will fund work in three areas including Zika Transmission in Ecuador and Colombia, Zika virus infection in Guillain-Barré syndrome and the characterisation of Zika virus neutralisation with 3D reconstruction. The Projects cover a breadth of research that the University is uniquely placed to achieve—from vector ecology, to pathogenesis of Zika-induced disease and structural characterisation of the virus.

The University of Glasgow’s three research projects were among the 26 “high quality” chosen submissions who all together received a combined sum of £3.2m to further Zika research. The three awards are in addition to the Dr Arvind Patel the University of Glasgow received from the Medical Research Council (MRC) in February this year.

This latest round of funding has been awarded following the Zika Rapid Response Initiative launched by the MRC in February, which saw £1m of funding made available through the Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund. Since then an additional £1m and up to £2m was contributed by the Wellcome Trust and the Newton Fund respectively, totalling up to £4m worth of funding.

According to the MRC all of the 26 successful projects were deemed able to provide novel, critical and timely insights into the nature of the virus and/or potential avenues for its management or prevention.

£300,000 Zika funding will be the principal investigator on research into the ecology of Zika transmission in Ecuador and Colombia, a project which has been awarded more than £100,000 of funding. Dr Ferguson said:

I am delighted that we have received a grant from the programme to work on the Ecology of Zika Transmission in Ecuador and Colombia, along with partners from three South American universities. The ability of South American countries to effectively respond to the unprecedented recent outbreak of Zika virus is severely hampered by limited understanding of the ecology of the virus’s transmission within areas where cases are rapidly expanding.

Our project will conduct a comprehensive programme of mosquito vector surveillance and viral genotyping within four south American settings where Zika cases are recently emerging. Studies will be conducted within two South American countries where Zika has been reported but at different frequency: Colombia where current burden is high (>10,000s of cases), and Ecuador were chases are present but have been reported at much lower frequency (less than 100).

Dr Ferguson's project will also contribute to efforts to develop research capacity within Ecuador and Colombia, where there are currently only a handful of senior vector-borne disease researchers. The project will help support training in ZIKV epidemiology of two highly promising early career researchers from Ecuador (Leonardo Ortega, who recently joined the Institute for his PhD) and Colombia (Alexandra Segura).

The second University of Glasgow led project will be ‘Investigating the role of Zika virus infection in Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)’, by Dr Heather Ferguson, Professor Hugh Willison and Dr Alain Kohl. 

The final project will be ‘Characterisation of Zika virus neutralisation and virion structure by cryogenic electron microscopy and 3D reconstruction’, by Dr Julia Edgar and Professor David Bhella.

Professor Sir John Savill, the MRC’s chief executive, said:

Two very important elements needed to come together in order to respond to the global health threat from the Zika virus — agility and capacity. Our Rapid Response Initiative allowed us to allocate funding to this global research challenge within a very short time frame, and valuable contributions from the Wellcome Trust and the Newton Fund created the capacity to match the remarkably strong response we received from the research community. Working in partnership is vital if we are to successfully tackle the health risks posed by emerging infections such as the Zika virus.”

First published: 21 March 2016