New MRC grant awarded to Jurgen Schwarze, Rick Maizels and Donald Davidson to study helminth induced antiviral immunity to RSV

Many congratulations to Jürgen Schwarze and Donald Davidson (Centre for Inflammation Research) and Rick Maizels (Institute of Immunology and Infection Research) on their recent award of £626K from the Medical Research Council to study “Mechanisms of helminth induced antiviral immunity to RSV infection”.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

In babies and toddlers worldwide, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of a type of chest infections called bronchiolitis and causes a severe lung inflammation. 2% of all babies in the UK have to be admitted to hospital with RSV bronchiolitis and some of them develop very severe and sometimes life threatening disease. This happens particularly when very high numbers of virus particles are present after infection.  Death due to RSV is rare in the UK, but it is a significant problem in developing countries.  Due to treatment costs and costs for the wider society (e.g. days lost at work for parents/ carers) RSV is responsible for a major financial burden.  Despite all of this, no specific treatment or effective, widely available preventative interventions exist and novel approaches are urgently required. 

Left to right:  Jürgen Schwarze, Rick Maizels and Donald Davidson

How do helminths regulate antiviral effects?

Recent studies have shown that a worm infection of the gut can lead to an antiviral state in the lung, which reduces numbers of viral particles, immune cell responses, inflammation, and disease severity in RSV infection.  The researchers will now continue these studies to find out which cells and/or substances of the mouse’s immune system are responsible for the antiviral effects during parasite worm infection.  They will also use the mouse model to test whether worm-derived products alone, rather than the full process of worm infection, are sufficient for the desired antiviral effects.  

Worm infection in humans

A significant aspect of the new research is to determine whether the findings in mice can be translated into humans.  Working with a collaborator in Uganda where worm infections in humans are still common, these studies will also be extended to investigate whether gut parasite worm infections in children, also lead to heightened antiviral responses in the airways. 

New treatments

Together these investigations will identify which immune cells or substances that arise during worm infection, lead to an antiviral state in the lung, and importantly whether these substances or cells will be promising new targets to develop preventive treatment for severe RSV bronchiolitis.  

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