£5.6M BBSRC collaborative award for research into Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus involving Edinburgh Infectious Diseases

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has just announced major funding of £5.6M for a new research project to tackle one of the world's most devastating livestock viruses - Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus. 

Prof Juergen Haas, of the Division of Pathway Medicine, University of Edinburgh and member of Edinburgh Infectious Diseases is part of the this collaborative project.  The project - "The Molecular Biology of FMDV Replication: Towards New Methods of FMDV Disease Control"- will integrate the work of academics at the Pirbright Institute with those from the Universities of  Edinburgh, Dundee, St Andrews and Leeds. The research programme aims at providing the knowledge base to develop a new generation of more effective vaccines and improve diagnosis.

FMDV causes one of the most economically important viral diseases of domestic livestock including cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. Since the disease is endemic in many countries, transmission by international travel and trade presents an on-going potential threat to the UK. It is one of the most contagious mammalian viruses and can infect over 70 species of wildlife, greatly increasing the difficulty of disease control - further complicated by the existence of 7 distinct serotypes with thousands of strains of the virus.

New developments in methods of studying the molecular biology of this virus, together with the development of new state-of-the art facilities at the Pirbright Institute, present an exciting opportunity to transform our understanding of how this virus grows in cells, to modify the virus genome and to improve diagnosis - all designed to improve the control of FMDV.

Professor Haas says:

The objective of the research programme of the our group at the University of Edinburgh is the identification and characterisation of key steps in the FMDV life cycle using state-of-art genomic technologies such as genome-scale RNA interference and yeast-two-hybrid protein interaction screens. The identification of viral and host factors that are crucial for the extremely fast viral replication, the establishment of latency in some affected animals and the viral pathogenesis will help to develop new approaches for prevention and therapy.

Lead researcher Professor Martin Ryan of the University of St Andrews, said:

One approach will be to alter the virus to make new strains that can infect animals without causing disease. These weakened viruses can prompt an immune response from the infected animal, giving it protection from subsequent infection."

The researchers will also attempt to use knowledge of how the virus grows in cells to make a new type of virus that could only grow in specially designed "helper" cells, meaning the virus couldn't then grow in animals. This would make the use of existing conventional vaccines a much safer process.

Professor Ryan added:

The strength of this project arises from combining the expertise from a multi-disciplinary team and the use of state-of-the art research technologies. Success would stimulate the routine use of vaccine to control FMDV around the globe. This would reduce the global incidence of FMD with enormous economic and social value worldwide."

Professor Terry Jackson, from The Pirbright Institute, said:

One of humanity's biggest challenges in coming years will be to meet a growing demand for food. Animal diseases have a major impact on the productivity of the livestock industry and safeguarding animal welfare will be a major component of maximising food production."

Professor Dave Rowlands and Dr Nic Stonehouse will contribute from the University of Leeds. Professor Rowlands said: New technologies can now enable academic institutions to work safely with non-infectious forms of the virus. This greatly expands the range of specialised techniques that can be applied to the study of this globally important pathogen"

More details are available on the websites below

© Images have been provided through courtesy of the Institute of Animal Health and the Pirbright Institute


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