Infectious Diseases

Medical Research Scotland is one of the largest and most comprehensive independent research charities in Scotland. Unlike most medical research charities, our funding isn't restricted to any one disease or condition, we support high-quality research that aims to improve the understanding, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of all diseases and disease mechanisms.

Awards in the past 20 years

The following are some of the awards we made for research into bacterial, viral and other infectious diseases.

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Dr Brian Smith (Institute of Molecular, Cell & Systems Biology) to supervise Miss Karen McClymont during her PhD Studentship, "Characterisation of a molecular switch: how does Factor C recognise, and change shape in response to endotoxin? Towards a sensitive synthetic endotoxin test". This research will also involve close working with Marine Biotech Ltd.
Complications in some bacterial infections can prove fatal as a result of the actions of endotoxins, derived from the components of certain bacteria. Discovering ways to detect and neutralise toxic challenges are vital to ensuring the safety of drugs, medical devices and vaccines. Horseshoe crab blood components are used for the compulsory safety testing of all pharmaceutical injectable products and medical devices. Horseshoe crab blood is used because a blood protein Factor C recognises endotoxins at an infection site and then elicits a chain of events which leads to both inactivation of the bacteria and wound healing. The detail of this process is not well understood, so will be investigated with the aim of using the knowledge gained to develop a synthetic testing system based on Factor C to provide a robust endotoxin detection test. Such properties could also form the basis for development of future therapeutics in endotoxin-compromised patients. Producing a low-cost higher quality alternative to the existing endotoxin test to reduce both the risk of contamination and the price of drugs to the NHS and would also represent a significant advancement in medical technology.

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Dr Till Bachmann (Pathway Medicine) to supervise Mr Johannes Brennecke during his PhD Studentship, "Development of point-of-care detection of bacterial messenger RNA leading to rational antibiotic therapy guided by bacterial response to therapy". This research will also involve close working with Axis-Shield Ltd
Antibiotic resistance is a worldwide threat costing €1.5 billion per year in the EU alone. In addition, even if the bacterial pathogens are sensitive, antibiotic therapy fails in some cases. This can be associated with a discrepancy of in vitro and in vivo responses of bacteria to antibiotic therapy. Our previous investigations of this phenomenon indicated a change in response profile depending on treatment conditions. The condition bacterial pathogens are in (e.g. which virulence genes are activated, which antibiotic resistance mechanisms are activated) can be monitored via the detection of the gene expression status, using transcriptomics using DNA microarrays or next-generation sequencing technologies. Prompt initiation of appropriate antibiotic treatment and patient management strategies benefit hugely from rapid diagnostics. This project is embedded in the development of such devices and will build on existing MDx detection technology, with the aim of enabling the monitoring of bacterial response to therapy directly on the transcriptional level. It willinvolve research on the detection of mRNA biomarkers, nucleic acid isolation from patient samples and ultrasensitive detection technologies. This will be an important step towards an antibiotic treatment monitoring platform at point of care.

£120,229 over 24 months to Dr Paul Hoskisson (Institute of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences, Strathclyde University), for a study of non-toxigenic Corynebacterium diphtheriae  -  a pathogen of emerging importance in Scotland.
Diphtheria is a debilitating disease of the throat and pharynx caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Although relatively rare in the UK thanks to an effective vaccine, it remains a common childhood illness in the developing world. Recent increases in cases where there is serious, persistent infections of the throat, bones and heart have, however, highlighted a lack of understanding of the detailed disease mechanisms. This research aims to rectify this deficit and point the way to developing new treatments or improved vaccines.

£141,512 to Dr Sarah J. Coulthurst (Division of Molecular Biology, Dundee University) for a two-year investigation into the role of a new protein secretion system in the virulence of the opportunistic pathogen, Serratia marcescens.
The bacterium called Serratia marcescens is the source of many hospital-acquired infections (HAI). This project seeks to improve detailed understanding of the steps in the infection process, with the results contributing to the search to find new ways to combat HAI.

£142,239 over 24 months to Dr John A. Marwick (formerly of the National Heart & Lung Institute, London, now at the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh) & Professor Adriano G. Rossi (MRC Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh) to study the impact of oxidative stress and glucocorticoids on neutrophil function and macrophage clearance.
Inflammation is normally a beneficial process, involving white blood cells which kill invading organisms, remove damaged tissue and start to repair affected tissues. An acute, strong episode of inflammation can,however, damage the body's organs, especially if they are already inflamed. People with severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have chronically-inflamed lungs and, if they get an infection, they often also get acute episodes of inflammation (called exacerbations). These cause an excess of white blood cells (neutrophils) and can result in hospitalisation and death. Anti-inflammatory drugs like steroids are good at controlling inflammation, but they do not work well on neutrophils and are ineffective during exacerbations. This research aims to find out why this is the case, so that new drugs might be developed which could reduce inflammation during exacerbations, thereby preventing hospitalisation and possible death.

£112,252 over two years to Dr Daniel Walker (Division of Infection & Immunity, Glasgow University), to study of the antimicrobial activity of novel protein antibiotics against Pseudomonas aeruginosa in the biofilm state.
Persistent lung infection with the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the major cause of death in cystic fibrosis. The bacterium is naturally resistant to many commonly used antibiotics and acquires resistance to others,making infections very difficult to treat. New therapies are needed urgently. In cysitic fibrosis P. aeruginosa can grow as a thin film in the lungs and in this 'biofilm' state, is virtually impossible to eradicate with conventional antibiotics. This project aims to isolate protein antibiotics (pyocins) and investigate their ability to prevent the formation of P. aeruginosa biofilms and kill bacteria in existing biofilms.

£106,114 over two years to Dr Shauna E. Culshaw (Centre for Biophotonics, University of Strathclyde) and colleagues Professor Paul Garside, Dr John Girkin, Professor Gail McConnell & Dr James Brewer (all of the Centre for Biophotonics, University of Strathclyde), to improve understanding of the basic mechanisms of the adaptive immune response to cariogenic bacteria in the oral cavity.
Oral health is a major component of general health, well being and quality of life. The social and economic costs of poor oral health are significant, but will only be reduced when new ways are found to prevent or treat the underlying dental decay. This fundamental study of the immune response to dental caries-causing bacteria aims to provide pointers to the best way forward.

£79,993 over two years to Dr Iain Anthony (Neuropathology), Professor Jeanne Bell (Neuropathology) & Dr Juan Carlos Arango (Forensic Medicine, Edinburgh University) for an investigation of neuroinflammation and accelerated neuro-ageing in HAART-treated HIV-infected individuals.
HIV-infected individuals now live much longer than previously and impairment of brain function is becoming a major problem in these people, so this study aims to clarify whether HIV or its associated treatment accelerates the natural ageing processes in the brain.

£75,394 over 18 months to Dr Amanda MacCallum (Institute of Comparative Medicine, Veterinary Pathology, Glasgow University), for an investigation of the early cell-signalling events in Campylobacter jejuni-infected enterocytes.
Campylobacter jejuni is the commonest cause of bacterial food poisoning in the western world and this work aims to clarify exactly how the bacterium enters cells in the gut and multiplies, resulting in disease.

£77,630 over two years to Drs Pamela Johnston, Chris Woodall & Penelope Redding (School of Life Sciences, Glasgow Caledonian University) for an investigation of control measures to limit norovirus infections in a hospital environment.
This work aims to investigate ways of inactivating the highly infectious norovirus which causes the gastrointestinal disease known as 'winter vomiting' and is prevalent in hospitals and care homes for the elderly.

The Mrs Jean V. Baxter Medical Research Fellowship 2004-06 was awarded to Dr Linda Scobie (Veterinary Pathology, Institute of Comparative Medicine, Glasgow University) to continue her work on the control of human trophic replication competent porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERV) in cells and organs for xenotransplantation.

£70,000 for one year to Dr Mark Ramsdale (Molecular & Cell Biology, Aberdeen University) to dissect the cell death machinery of the fungal pathogen, Candida albicans, in a search for novel antifungal therapies.
Cell death is a normal function in cells of all types, including fungi such as Candida albicans. This research will investigate the cell death pathways of Candida, to find potential treatment targets for resistant fungal pathogens that cause problems for immunocompromised individuals.

£33,978 to Dr Bernadette Connolly (Molecular & Cell Biology, Aberdeen University) to extend her previously-funded studies of the changes in protein and gene expression in skeletal muscle cells in vivo during dedifferentiation induced by infection with the nematode parasite Trichinella spiralis.

£60,594 over two years to Dr Linda Scobie (Veterinary Pathology, Glasgow University) for an analysis of full-length integrated porcine endogenous retroviruses and their infectious potential in xenotransplantation.
Being able to engineer organs in pigs which are suitable for human transplantation has the potential to save many lives. This research aims to identify the numerous viruses found in pigs which would otherwise make such transplants too dangerous.

£69,921 over two years to Drs Winifred Boner & Iain Morgan (Veterinary Pathology, Glasgow University) for the development of an HPV16 E2-interacting protein as a therapeutic target for interfering with the viral life cycle.
The life-cycle of the human papillomaviruses (HPV) is dependant on the E2 protein. Given the severity of diseases they cause and the lack of therapies, this research seeks to disturb E2 function to disrupt the viral life-cycle with molecules which could be therapeutic.

£69,967 over two years to Drs Craig W. Roberts & James Alexander (Immunology, Strathclyde University) to develop a rational molecular approach to designing a vaccine against congenital toxoplasmosis.
There is currently no vaccine for congenital toxoplasmosis, a protozoal infection which can cause serious disease. This research aims to identify proteins with a strong immunological response, with a view to designing a vaccine.

£39,943 for a one-year study to Drs James G. Burgess, David R Adams & Phillip C. Wright (Biological Sciences, Heriot-Watt University) to study the effect of novel chemical inducers (signal molecules) on the production of antibiotics active against multi-drug resistant hospital pathogens.
Multi-drug resistant hospital pathogens present major challenges to staff and patients alike. This research will study the effects of new signalling molecules on the production of antibiotics to tackle such pathogens.

£69,720 over two years to Dr Paul H. Everest (Veterinary Pathology, Glasgow University) for the identification of Salmonella enteritidis genes required for colonisation and survival in poultry and shell eggs.
Salmonella enteritidis is a major cause of bacterial food poisoning. This research seeks to identify the genes which are needed for the Salmonella bacteria to colonise and then survive in poultry and shell eggs.

A Medical Research Scholarship 2000-01 was also awarded to Dr Emma Honey (Medical Microbiology, Aberdeen University) to investigate the effectiveness of current screening strategies for Chlamydia trachomatis and indentify the amount of reinfection following treatment. In addition, she will clarify individual preference and acceptability of screening among women at risk of contracting the disease with the aim of developing improved screening strategies for the future.

£35,831 over one year to Dr Bernadette Connolly (Molecular & Cell Biology, Aberdeen University) to investigate the changes in protein and gene expression in skeletal muscle cells in vivo during dedifferentiation induced by infection with the nematode parasite Trichinella spiralis.

£44,929 over one year to Drs Alexandra Cochrane & Peter Simmonds (Clinical & Molecular Virology, Edinburgh University) to study the molecular epidemiology of hepatitis C virus infection in injecting drug users.

£69,045 over two years to Dr Iain B. McInnes (Centre for Rheumatic Diseases, Glasgow Royal Infirmary) & Dr Jeremy H. Brock (Immunology & Bacteriology, Glasgow University) for a study of lactoferrin-mediate resistance to Staphylococcus aureus infection.

£69,961 over two years to Dr Robert Aitken (Infection & Immunity) and Dr Brian L. Jones (Microbiology, Glasgow University) for the development of recombinant immunotheraptutics against Clostridium difficile.

£68,382 over two years to Dr Mary McElroy & Professor Christopher Haslett (Rayne Laboratories, Edinburgh Unviersity) to study the mechanism of Staphyloccocus aureus injury to the alveolar-capillary barrier in bacterial infection of the lung.

£68,952 over two years to Professor Timothy Mitchell & Dr John Coote (Infection & Immunity, Glasgow University) and Mr Stuart Clarke (Microbiology, Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow) for a study of the role of RTX proteins in the pathogenesis of disease caused by Neisseria meningitidis and their potential as vaccine molecules.

£69,502 over two years to Drs J. Grant Burgess (Biological Sciences) & Phillip Wright (Mechanical & Chemical Engineering, Heriot-Watt University) to develop novel approaches for the generation of antibiotics active against multi-drug resistant pathogens present in clinical environments.

£67,139 over two years to Dr Ingolfur Johanessen & Professor Dorothy H. Crawford (Medical Microbiology, Edinburgh University) for the definitiion of EBV latency/persistence and reactivation using a Scid mouse model.

£1,235 for a 5-month pilot study to Dr Lawrence Elliott (School of Nursing & Midwifery, Dundee University) Dr Avril Taylor (Behavioural Studies, Scottish Centre for Infection & Environmental Health, Ruchill Hospital, Glasgow) and Mr Simon Ogston (Epidemiology & Public Health, Dundee University) to study the long-term impact of needle exchanges on injecting-related risk behaviour.

£53,841 to Drs Marilyn Moore and Andrew J. Leigh Brown (Centre for HIV Research, Edinburgh University) for a study of the role of cytokine production by macrophages in HIV disease progression.

£7,647 to Dr Jeremy Bagg & Miss Kirsty Roy (Glasgow Dental School), Dr Edward A. Follett (HIV/Hepatitis Laboratory) and Dr David J. Goldberg (Scottish Centre for Infection & Environmental Health, Ruchill Hospital, Glasgow) for a one-year study aimed at optimising specimen collection methods for the detection of hepatitis C in saliva.

The Mrs Jean V. Baxter Medical Research Fellowship (1994-96) was awarded to Dr Philippa M.A. Shanahan (Medical Microbiology, Edinburgh University) for an examination of the genetics and analysis of the biochemistry of the resistance determinants in the multi-resistant Salmonella typhi which is currently causing an epidemic in India.