08:10am Saturday 28 March 2020

UK – US funding for research to help control the spread of disease

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% 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.”

“The research funded through this program 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,” says Sam Scheiner, NSF program director for EEID.

“A strength of this program is the depth of understanding we gain by studying disease ecology and evolution from this broad perspective,” Scheiner says. “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.”

“A multidisciplinary approach to understanding disease transmission dynamics is critical for the prediction, prevention and control of emerging and reemerging disease threats,” says Christine Jessup, EEID program director at NIH’s Fogarty International Center. “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.”


Notes to editors

Additional projects funded by the Ecology of Infectious Diseases Initiative only involve US funders and researchers. The three projects which received UK / US funding from this initiative are:

  1. Funded by BBSRC and ESRC in the UK and NIH in the USA
    John A Crump (Duke University, USA); Sarah Cleaveland, Glasgow (UK)
    This project will investigate the transmission of a number of important fever-causing bacteria in Northern Tanzania. Collectively, 11 times more people admitted to hospital with fever are suffering from diseases caused by Leptospira, Coxiella and Brucella bacteria than from Malaria, yet almost nothing is known about how they are transmitted amongst animals and to humans. This project will use a multidisciplinary approach to model these diseases in order to identify the best strategies for controlling and preventing them.
  2. Funded by BBSRC in the UK and NSF in the USA
    Samantha Forde (UC Santa Cruz, US) and Ivana Gudelj (Exeter, UK)
    This project aims to increase our understanding of why some viruses are able to infect a range of different host organisms whereas others are much more specialised. Using laboratory experiments and mathematical models the researchers hope to provide critical insights into what factors affect the evolution of ‘specialist’ and ‘generalist’ viruses which will increase our understanding of how viral diseases spread and evolve.
  3. Funded by ESRC in the UK and NIH in the USA
    Tony Goldberg (U Wisconsin Madison, USA), Mhairi Gibson (Bristol, UK) and Simon Frost (Cambridge, UK)
    This research will investigate why the HIV virus only emerged in the 1970s despite entering the human population many decades earlier. The researchers plan to investigate whether a pathogen might be able to persist for a very long time at a low level in a region because of the social and environmental conditions. The researchers will model HIV transmission by looking at the spread of three simian retroviruses in a population of wild red colobus monkeys (Procolobus rufomitratus) in Kibale National Park, Uganda. The UK team investigating how human socio-cultural drivers of human-wildlife conflict lead to perceived and real risks of zoonotic transmission

About ESRC

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2011/12 is £203M. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk

About NSF

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2011, its budget is about $6.9Bn. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives over 45,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes over 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $400M in professional and service contracts yearly.

About NIH

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk.
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes.


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