School receives EU funding to tackle Zika virus

Experts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine researching the Zika virus have received over £2m to conduct vital new studies on the disease, including the risks it poses to newborn babies, routes of transmission, its potential global spread and ways to stop it.

The funding comes from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, which aims to help combat the outbreak of the Zika virus and other emerging infections transmitted by mosquitoes.

As a member of ZikaPLAN (Zika Preparedness Latin American Network) and ZIKAlliance, two of three consortiums awarded funding, the School will conduct a broad spectrum of research, from developing novel ways to protect people against mosquito bites, to discovering the long-term effects on children born with microcephaly.

The School has been awarded €2m through ZikaPLAN, a global initiative led by the University of UmeÃ¥, Sweden. It was formed to address the many research and public health challenges the virus poses and takes a comprehensive approach to tackle the Zika threat by:

  • addressing the knowledge gaps and needs in the current Zika outbreak to better understand the disease, prevent its spread and educate the affected populations
  • building a sustainable response capacity in Latin America for Zika and other emerging infectious diseases

The School is one of the largest partners among the 25 leading research and public health organisations from Latin America, North America, Africa, Asia, and Europe, which gathered in Recife, Brazil, for the launch of ZikaPLAN.

Dr James Logan, who led the School's application for funding through ZikaPLAN, said: "While in Brazil I witnessed the devastating consequences Zika infection can have on newborn children. It's crucial that we fill the knowledge gaps about the virus - ZikaPLAN research will play a pivotal role in that. The School's multidisciplinary team will collaborate with partners across the world to answer some of the most urgent questions relating to the virus.

"School researchers will develop and test new diagnostic tools and evaluate methods for controlling the mosquito vector. We also aim to further our understanding about the virus itself, determine what symptoms are associated with the disease in infants, and shed light on the costs and social impact on families who have a baby Zika-related symptoms. Building networks and capacity in countries likely to be affected is another important aspect. This will tackle Zika in the short-term, but also help ensure the world is better prepared for Zika and other future disease outbreaks."

The School has been awarded €380,625 through ZikAlliance, a multinational and multi-disciplinary research consortium consisting of 52 partners from 18 countries, led by Aix-Marseille University in France.

ZikAlliance will explore the impact of Zika during pregnancy, and the short and medium-term effects that it has on newborn babies, but also on the natural history of the disease and its potential for transmission by non vector routes. With a strong emphasis on both basic and social sciences, consortium partners aim to characterise the virus, the mechanisms of the disease, and identify drugs that can control the viral infection.

Professor Philippe Mayaud led the School's application for ZikAlliance funding. He said: "Zika took the world by surprise. We still know very little about the virus and its long-term effects on newborns, but also on the health of women and men affected by the disease. Our research will estimate the clinical, disability and economic burdens of the disease on individuals, families and health services, as well as the costs of interventions needed to support those affected by the virus.

"The team will also develop mathematical models to help predict the chances of Zika epidemics and generate maps to determine the risk Zikavirus poses to the world - both during the current outbreak and over the longer-term. We will evaluate the threat Europe and other non-endemic countries face from Zika through mosquito and sexual transmission, and investigate other possible routes of transmission such as saliva or breastfeeding."

ZIKAlliance and ZikaPLAN are funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement no. 734548 and 734584, respectively. Both will work closely with ZIKAction, the third consortium to receive funding.

Related links

Related courses

LSHTM Scholarship Fund

Every year, LSHTM donors, alumni and friends donate to help widen access to education through the provision of scholarships.

Scholarships are transformational, have the capacity to change the lives of the students who receive them, and alleviate the financial burden of study for talented and motivated recipients.