Dr John Tregoning, Professor in Vaccine Immunology, recounts his experience of working with Dr Katalin Karikó, Nobel Prize winner and the tenacious force behind the mRNA vaccines that helped change the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their recently published study investigates how RNA modifications impact the body’s immune response to infection, with the hopes of aiding the development of more effective mRNA vaccines.
The Simon Newell Award Recognises an outstanding young medically qualified researcher in British paediatrics. Each year, with support from GOSH Charity and Sparks, RCPCH offer the prestigious award of £2,000 to one early independent researcher in paediatrics.
Recently, the UK Government announced that offers of first and second Covid-19 vaccinations will come to an end after 30 June. Ahead of World Immunisation Week, Professor Azeem Majeed from the School of Public Health discusses this major change in national vaccine policy, and why it’s important to stay up to date with Covid-19 booster vaccinations.
The announcement from NHS England that first and second doses of Covid-19 vaccines will no longer be offered to adults after 30 June 2023 signifies a significant change in national vaccine policy. We will all remember the start of the Covid-19 vaccination programme in December 2020, the rapid rollout of vaccines by the NHS, and the enthusiasm for vaccination amongst most sections of the population. Vaccination curbed the impact of Covid-19, leading to large falls in hospital admissions and deaths, and allowing the government to end Covid-19 restrictions.
We are now though entering a new phase in which Covid-19 vaccination will be restricted to older people and those in medical problems that place them at higher risk of adverse outcomes such as hospitalisation and death. The very highest risk groups – such as the immunocompromised and people aged 75 years and over – have been offered booster vaccines every six months for the past two years. Other population groups – such as NHS staff, those aged 50 and over, and people with significant medical problems – have been offered annual booster vaccines.
The largest ever outbreak of bird flu is spilling over into mammals, including foxes and otters in the UK. Could this transmission see a jump to humans? Dr Thomas Peacock from the Department of Infectious Disease discusses.
Avian influenza virus has been featured prominently in the news again over the past few months. Headlines urge vaccine stockpiling, show images of beaches covered in dead sea birds or seals, or people in hazmat suits carrying bin bags full of dead birds or mink. Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, is another pandemic unavoidable?
We have been in this situation before, back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, headlines spoke of ‘bird flu’ – H5N1 viruses ancestral to the ones currently circulating in Europe – as the inevitable coming pandemic. In fact, in 2009 an influenza pandemic did occur, but rather than the deadly H5N1 bird flu, it was caused by an obscure swine influenza virus that passed onto humans and caused the 2009 ‘swine flu’ pandemic.
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.
While HIV is no longer the death sentence that it once was, lifelong treatment is still required and there is no cure – yet. Professor Sarah Fidler from the Department of Infectious Disease discusses how a new type of HIV treatment holds promise as a longer-lasting alternative to current complex drug regimens.
Despite extraordinary political and medical advances, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, remains one of the world’s most serious public health challenges. Since its discovery in 1983 by researchers at the Pasteur Institute in France, 84 million people worldwide are estimated to have become HIV-positive and 40 million people have died from an HIV-related illness. Today, there are around 38 million people living with HIV globally, with 1.5 million new infections in 2021.
Advocacy and close collaboration between clinicians, scientists and the HIV-affected community has inspired and driven the research and drug development and access agenda. Without these close working relationships, the development of HIV treatments would have been markedly slower and many more lives would have been lost.
Providing the most comprehensive picture of COVID-19 infectiousness to date, recent researchfrom Imperial College scientists offered new insights into how long people with COVID-19 are infectious for. Co-author, Dr Seran Hakki, outlines the challenges of collecting real-world evidence in the first-of-its-kind study.
In August, the ATACCC Study (The Assessment of Transmission and Contagiousness of COVID-19 in Contacts) published some of their findings in one of the world’s leading respiratory health journals, The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. Our study was the first to use real-life evidence from naturally acquired infection to assess the duration of COVID-19 infectiousness, its correlation with symptom onset, and how this affects the accuracy of lateral flow tests.
Dr Emma Smith—HIC-Vac Network Manager—explains how specific guidelines for the provenance and manufacture of challenge agents could make human infection studies even safer.
Human infection studies, also known as human challenge studies, are clinical trials where volunteers are intentionally given a carefully considered dose of a pathogen—known as the challenge agent. These models can be used to study host-pathogen interactions and disease progression; identify and test the efficacy of promising vaccines and drugs in development; or be used as proof-of-concept studies for testing novel medications. In this controlled environment it is possible to study infections in ways that aren’t possible in traditional field studies.
One of the first steps towards establishing a challenge study is the selection, isolation, development and production of the challenge agent. However, unlike medicines, the regulation of challenge agent manufacture varies internationally; an area that the research community has identified as a potential weakness in the field. Although human challenge studies have an excellent safety record—a recent literature review identified just 24 Serious Adverse Events (SAE) and zero deaths or cases of permanent damage among 15,046 participants in 308 studies spanning 1980 to 2021— the lack of specific guidelines for the provenance and manufacture of challenge agents warrants attention.
HIC-Vac—an Imperial-led international network of researchers who are developing human infection challenge studies—has been working with the global charitable foundation Wellcome and the company hVIVO to address this unmet need. Our purpose was to promote volunteer safety whilst maximizing access to challenge agents and challenge models globally. (more…)
Meet Dr. Fred Nsubuga, he manages the Diagnostics Laboratory at Jinja District Hospital in Uganda. His laboratory is not equipped for HIV-1 treatment monitoring, so, when patients come in who need a viral load test, he must collect, process and store their blood samples, batch them together, then send them on a truck to the national HIV testing laboratory in Kampala, the capital city, 44 miles away. Despite the availability of this state-of-the art facility which boasts a Roche Cobas 8800™ high-throughput instrument with a good computer-based laboratory management system, it can take months for the results to get back to him. Sometimes, they go missing.
Dr John Tregoning (JT) from Imperial’s Department of Infectious Disease spoke to the School of Public Health’s Prof Steven Riley (SR) about the coronavirus outbreak that recently began in Wuhan, China.
Who has been working on the outbreak epidemiology at Imperial College London?
SR: It is a viral infection that was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019 that has been associated with a number of cases of pneumonia – an infection of the tissue in the lungs. You might see it being called ‘2019-nCoV’, which stand for novel (or new) coronavirus. More information has been provided by the World Health Organisation. (more…)
Justin Bieber’s recent Lyme disease diagnosis has brought the disease into the public eye. Professor Gareth Tudor-Williams explores whether there is a link between tick behaviour and a rise in reported cases.
It’s a fact that every time a high profile individual reveals that they have Lyme disease – the latest being singer Justin Bieber – there is an appreciable spike in internet searches, followed a short while later by an increase in the number of blood samples being sent for testing to the Public Health England national reference laboratory at Porton Down.
So this trend would suggest that the publicity about Lyme disease increases health-seeking behaviour in this country, which in turn leads to more cases being diagnosed.
All of which begs several questions. Is the incidence truly rising or are more people being diagnosed who would not previously have been tested? Are there significant numbers of people living in the UK with undiagnosed and therefore untreated infection? What proportion of untreated infected individuals develop long-term health problems? (more…)