New UK–US Funding for Disease Research

GLOBAL - A collaboration between UK and US funding agencies has announced more than £3.5 million in new funding for research aimed at controlling the transmission of diseases amongst humans, animals and the environment.
calendar icon 15 September 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

By improving our understanding of the factors affecting disease transmission, the three projects being funded will help to produce models to aid in predicting and controlling outbreaks.

The funding for these projects is being provided via the Ecology of Infectious Diseases (EID) Initiative by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK and, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Research funded by this UK-US collaboration aims to combat diseases that are particularly prevalent and damaging in the developing world, especially those, called zoonoses, which are transmitted from animals to humans. About 75 per cent of emerging diseases are zoonoses and they pose a serious threat to human health and to global food security.

These projects will draw on expertise from both biological and social scientists in order to provide advice to help public health workers in the developing world combat the emergence and spread of disease.

One of the projects funded by this initiative will investigate the factors which affect the transmission of bacterial diseases that cause fever in Tanzania, including that which causes Weil's disease, in order to develop better control strategies.

Another project funded by this round of investment will investigate the spread of a viral disease that is related to HIV in Colobus monkeys. The researchers hope that this will provide insights into how HIV was initially transmitted from animals to humans.

The third project aims to further our understanding of how, at the most fundamental level, viruses evolve to infect their hosts. The researchers hope to understand why some viruses can infect a number of different organisms whereas others are specialised to infect just one. This will provide insights into how researchers can combat the spread of all disease-causing viruses.

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said: "Infectious diseases are a global problem that requires a coordinated international solution. By bringing together the expertise of a diverse range of scientists in the UK and US, these projects will help farmers and officials in the developing world manage the threat of disease.

"Many important emerging diseases are transmitted to people from animals, so combating the spread of infectious diseases in animals is doubly useful: it improves animal health helping to ensure global food security and guards against human disease."

Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the ESRC, said: "Addressing the social and economic implications of infectious diseases, alongside the biological implications, is essential to developing a comprehensive understanding of this key global challenge. This trans-Atlantic initiative creates an opportunity for the best UK social scientists to collaborate with the best researchers from the US, and for them to inform the development of strategies to help health professionals and policy makers within and beyond the UK to combat existing and emerging diseases."

Sam Scheiner, NSF programme director for EEID, added: "The research funded through this programme stretches from fundamental understanding of host-pathogen co-evolution; to better management of California forests threatened by disease; to knowledge of viral transmission in African monkeys, which will provide answers about the emergence of HIV/AIDS."

"A strength of this program is the depth of understanding we gain by studying disease ecology and evolution from this broad perspective. These awards also demonstrate the international scope of the problems and of the scientists addressing those questions, especially through collaborations of American and British researchers."

Christine Jessup, EEID programme director at NIH's Fogarty International Center, commented: "A multidisciplinary approach to understanding disease transmission dynamics is critical for the prediction, prevention and control of emerging and reemerging disease threats. This year's projects address how human and natural processes influence infectious disease dynamics that are of global health concern, while at the same time building capacity for global health research."

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