A new state-of-the-art facility for investigating the cause of a range of infectious diseases has opened at the University of St Andrews.
The new labs, built at a cost of nearly £1M, will be used for fundamental research into both established and newly emerging viral and parasitic diseases such as influenza and sleeping sickness. In addition, a major injection of £1.25M just awarded from the Medical Research Council (MRC) will fund investigation into hantaviruses, a group of potentially deadly viruses passed onto humans by rodents.
The work of the lab will be directed by Professor of Virology at the University, Richard Elliott. He said, “The establishment of the containment labs at St Andrews signals the University’s commitment to the study of virology, and these labs are not just a first for St Andrews, but a first for Fife.”
The new suite of three restricted-access labs provides a safe and secure facility to study dangerous pathogens in cell-culture, protecting both the researchers and the environment.
Though the labs are already in use by virologists and parasitologists across the University¿s Centre for Biomolecular Sciences (CBMS), the recent MRC funding to Professor Elliott will see three new researchers appointed over a five-year period.
Professor Elliott and his colleagues in the Molecular and Structural Virology group currently investigate viruses such as measles, mumps, influenza and insect-transmitted viruses. The group’s main concern lies in developing further understanding of how viruses cause disease at the molecular level.
Hantaviruses can cause lifelong infections in mice, rats and other rodents, without causing disease. However, if humans become infected, by inhaling rodent urine-contaminated dust, the disease can be serious and perhaps fatal. Hantavirus infections occur mainly in the Far East (around 200,000 cases per year in China) though their incidence has been increasing in mainland Europe. Hantaviruses are prime examples of the so-called `emerging infections’.
Professor Elliott explained, “We want to understand how hantaviruses grow at the molecular level and how they deal with the cell’s defence mechanisms. Our studies will provide important new information that may help in the design of new antiviral drugs and perhaps protective vaccines.
“The new labs will provide researchers with the capability of dealing with more dangerous viruses in a safe and secure environment and will help us develop basic understanding into how viruses work. The facility will be used by colleagues across the University already working on a range of viruses and parasites, but also positions St Andrews well for opportunities to investigate new viruses in the future.”
St Andrews scientists in the CBMS are at the forefront of a £4.3million research effort to combat the threat of a global flu pandemic, and in the search for new drug therapies for a range of diseases, including cancers and viral haemorrhagic fevers. Last summer the University brought together 90 leading virologists from around the world for a major conference aimed at highlighting the latest research in zoonoses – diseases and infections naturally transmitted between animals and man, such as avian flu.
The new lab was visited recently by University Chancellor Sir Menzies Campbell, who was given a tour of the facilities by Professor Elliott, Dr Terry Smith (Lecturer in Parasitology) and lab manager Angela McLees.
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Ref: NEW LABS 280708
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