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Viruses and vaccines

Academics at the University of St Andrews have received a major funding boost to assist in their studies of viruses, immunity, vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

The Wellcome Trust has awarded a joint programme grant of approximately £1.7M to Professor Randall at the University of St Andrews, and Professor Goodbourn of St George’s, University of London, to examine the effects of measles, mumps and other respiratory viruses on our bodies’ immune response system.

Nearly one million pounds will be used to fund the work in Professor Randall’s laboratory and over £700,000 in Professor Goodbourn’s.

When infected by a virus the body responds by generating what is called an immune response to the virus that eventually leads to its elimination.

There are many arms to the immune response, but the St Andrews’ scientists will research one of the first and most powerful – the production of a substance called interferon.

Professor Richard Randall from St Andrews’ School of Biology explained, “The interferon response is a complex and powerful anti-viral response that if it worked to full capacity could probably control all virus infections in the absence of any other immune response.

“However, it rarely works to full capacity because viruses produce products that interfere with the correct function of the interferon response. Indeed, to survive in nature all viruses must have some strategy to at least partially circumvent the interferon response.”

Professors Randall and Goodbourn have been collaborating for many years trying to better understand how viruses prevent the interferon response from working correctly. In the last ten years a great deal of progress has been made in this area.

Professor Randall continued, “In this programme of work, we will continue studies on the nature of the interaction of a group of viruses, termed paramyxoviruses (that include measles, mumps and respiratory viruses amongst others) with the interferon system in order to better understand how viruses trigger the interferon response, and how, in turn, the interferon response influences their replication cycles and hence the types of diseases they cause.  Such studies may lead to new targets for anti-viral drug design.”

Furthermore, as part of the programme, the St Andrews’ researchers are also developing methods to determine which viruses are unable to circumvent the interferon response.  This will aid in fundamental studies on the interaction of viruses with the interferon system and potentially lead to the development of ‘interferon-sensitive’ viruses as virus vaccines.

Professor Randall continued, “We now know that viruses usually overcome the interferon system by producing products that inhibit one part of the system or another. Intriguingly, different viruses do this in different ways and the ways in which they circumvent the interferon response undoubtedly influence their life-style and hence the type of disease they cause.

“However, viruses rarely completely overwhelm the interferon response and it remains critical in controlling virus infections, buying time for the generation of an adaptive immune response which finally clears the infection.”

ENDS

NOTE TO EDITORS:

Professor Richard Randall is available for interview on Tel: 01334 463397 or Email: rer@st-and.ac.uk

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Fiona Armstrong, Press Officer on 01334 462530 / 467227, Mobile: 07730 415 015 or Email: fa12@st-andrews.ac.uk
Ref:  viruses and vaccines 140409
View the latest University press releases at www.st-andrews.ac.uk

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