The UK Medical Research Council (MRC) has announced a ‘Rapid Response’ call for research applications aimed at tackling the risk posed by the Zika virus.
‘Rapid Responses’ aim to accelerate the speed at which essential funding can be allocated in emergency situations. Under circumstances of emerging threats with serious and immediate risk to human health, applications for funding are directly assessed by a scientific panel and are not subject to usual peer review. All proposals must be clear in why the funding is needed now and cannot wait until the next round of core funding.
Initially, up to £1 million from the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund will be made available through the Rapid Response mechanism to researchers applying for grants to investigate the nature of the virus, its transmission and the potential links to neurological conditions including microcephaly.
Possible avenues of research to be funded by this initiative could include:
- Epidemiological characteristics, e.g. vector transmission potential, geographical spread, interactions with other arboviruses, changing viral genotype, host susceptibility, incubation period, etc.
- Development of more specific rapid diagnostic tests for Zika virus that can reduce misdiagnosis that may occur due to the presence of dengue or other viruses in a test sample
- Viral pathogenicity, association with and potential mechanistic links to neurodevelopment / microcephaly
- Mechanisms of infection and host immune responses and potential therapeutics.
“It’s critical that we find out more about the Zika virus as soon as possible, so we are allocating funding to help researchers answer some of the most pressing questions about the disease,” said Professor Sir John Savill, the MRC’s chief. “We need to be able to develop treatments and vaccines but first we need answers to vital questions about the nature of this virus – such as if and how it is changing, how to control the spread of the disease, and how to both diagnose and prevent infection.”
At the same time as the rapid response initiative, the UK MRC and the Foundation for Science and Technology of the state of Pernambuco (FACEPE) have recently agreed to jointly fund a research proposal to investigate the viral features and host responses to Zika virus with a view to designing new preventative strategies. This agreement follows a joint call for research applications under the UK Government’s Newton Fund.
Researchers at the UK MRC Centre for Virus Research at the University of Glasgow will be working with a team at the Research Center Aggeu Magalhães at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Pernambuco, Brazil.
The joint award is around £300,000 in total.
The main objective of the project is to study the presence and epidemiology of the Zika virus in Brazil and to understand how the immune system of people infected with the virus responds to the infection. Genetic techniques will be used to support diagnostics and vaccine development studies as well as helping to understand the biology of the Zika virus during infection.