Faculty of Biological Sciences

Research Bulletin

FBS Researchers volunteer to fight Ebola

17th February 2015

Four University of Leeds researchers have volunteered to fight the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone.

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The scientists, who all work in the University’s Faculty of Biological Sciences, will each work for five weeks in diagnostic laboratories run by Public Health England in the West African country.

Scientists in the laboratories do not work directly with Ebola patients but are vital to the international effort because of the importance of diagnosing cases quickly and accurately.

Dr Hazel Stewart, a 29-year-old researcher who has been working on the hepatitis C virus in the University’s School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, will be the first of the Leeds researchers to be deployed.

She said: “The labs are based near the clinics so the diagnosis can be delivered as quickly as possible. They will send us blood samples from the patients and we will extract and detect Ebola’s genetic material. This lab-based analysis is the most reliable available and they need skilled people on the ground to do it.”

Dr Stewart is currently receiving intensive training for her posting at Public Health England’s laboratories in Porton Down, Salisbury, and is due to travel to Port Loko in Sierra Leone on February 18.

“I am apprehensive and nervous, but excited as well. I became a scientist to help people and this is a clear opportunity to do that,” Dr Stewart said.

“My parents were not happy when I first told them I was going, but they realise that this is what I want to do and this is why I have done all my training.”

Dr Zsofia Igloi, aged 30, an expert in the hepatitis C virus; Dr Rebecca Surtees, 26, who has been researching the bunyavirus family of viruses; and Mr Andrew Buckley, 24, who is in the third year of PhD research into a family of viruses called arenaviruses, will be deployed to Sierra Leone in the coming months.

Mr Buckley, who is expecting to be deployed in March, said: “This is what we come into this field for. If you are a virologist, you want to be active in the fight against dangerous viruses like Ebola. It is something that I feel I have to do because I am a specialist in this area, and this is a unique situation that requires specialized skills.”

Dr Igloi said: “I feel very proud to be playing my part in the network of scientists and medics confronting Ebola in West Africa. As virologists, it is our job to fight disease, and this programme is a particularly clear opportunity to make an immediate impact.”

Dr Surtees said: “I feel it is my responsibility to use the skills I have to help the people of Sierra Leone. I am looking forward to doing work that will help those who are ill with Ebola.”

Professor Mark Harris, Professor of Virology and the head of Dr Stewart’s and Dr Igloi’s research team, said: “The infrastructure required to confront Ebola relies not only on nursing and medical support, but on having the ability to diagnose cases quickly and check when people have recovered. This is part of a national programme led by Public Health England to get the people with the right experience to the affected countries.”

Professor Harris said: “Sierra Leone has been at the centre of the outbreak, but the fact that there has been an international response in recent months and that this efficient screening programme has been put in place has undoubtedly helped slow down the epidemic. There is some evidence that the epidemic may have peaked and the hope is that our researchers may be playing a part in the successful control of the disease.”


Further information

Photographs of the researchers who will be working in Sierra Leone are available from the University of Leeds press office.

Contact: Chris Bunting, Press Officer, University of Leeds; phone: +44 113 343 2049 or email c.j.bunting@leeds.ac.uk.

Recent Grants

Dave Westhead and colleagues in Experimental Haematology, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2015), £700,521

Sheena Radford, Mark Harris, Peter Stockley, Alan Berry, Alex O'Neill, Thomas Edwards, Adrian Goldman, Anastasia Zhuravleva, Wellcome Trust (Jan 2015), £443,015

Bill Kunin, EU (Jan 2015), £157,490

John Colyer, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Charitable Fund (Jan 2015), £40,000

Chris Hassall, Royal Society (Dec 2014), £14,500

Ryan Seipke, Royal Society (Nov 2014), £13,700

Alan Berry, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2014), £749,865

Ian Hope, Marie-Anne Shaw, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £396,565

Alison Ashcroft, Peter Stckley, Sheena Radford, Nic Stonehouse, David Brockwell, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £340,937

Les Firbank, Joe Holden, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £210,302

Darren Tomlinson and colleagues in Chemistry and Pathology, anatomy and Tumour Biology, Dr Hadwen Trusy (Oct 2014), £194,475

Paul Knox, EU (Oct 2014), £167,229

Martin Stacey and colleagues in Medicine & Health, Pfizer (Oct 2014), £90,453

Darren Tomlinson and colleagues in Experimental Oncology, YCR (Oct 2014), £69,480

Andrew Macdonald, Jamel Mankouri, Kidney Research Fund UK (Oct 2014), £58,878

Mike McPherson and colleagues in Dentistry and Engineering, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2014), £58,437

Dave Westhead and colleagues in Experimental Haemotology, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (Sep 2014), £281,424

Emmanuel Paci and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £636,759

Andrew Peel, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £371,598

Lars Jeuken, Stephen Evans, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £333,684

Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £313,463

Michelle Peckham, Mark Harris, Rao Sivaprasadarao, Eileen Ingham, Nic Stonehouse, Nikita Gamper, Wellcome Trust (Sep 2014), £192,763

Neil Ranson, BBSRC (Aug 2014), £355,253

Stuart Egginton, BHF (Aug 2014), £271,094

Darren Tomlinson, Mike McPherson, Technology Strategy Board (Aug 2014), £98,665

Peter Henderson, Leverhulme Trust (Aug 2014), £15,222

Mike McPherson (and colleagues in the School of Chemistry), EPSRC (Jul 2014), £819,880

Peter Stockley, Neil Ranson, BBSRC (Jul 2014), £455,787

Sheena Radford, Univesity of Michigan (Jul 2014), £138,452

Ryan Seipke, British Society Antimicrobial Chemistry (Jun 2014), £11,960

John Trinick, BHF (Jun 2014), £222,614

Chris West, Leverhulme Trust (Jun 2014), £181,241

Jon Lippiat, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (May 2014), £125,174

Christine Foyer, Royal Society (May 2014), £24,000

David Brockwell, Sheena Radford, Medimmune Ltd (Apr 2014), £337,661

Peter Stockley, Wellcome Trust (Apr 2014), £251,019

Mike McPherson, Wellcome Trust (Apr 2014), £146,596

Andrew Macdonald, Kidney Research Fund UK (Apr 2014), £127,237

Elwyn Isaac, DEFRA (Apr 2014), £126,512

Mike McPherson (and colleagues in School of Design), Technology Strategy Board (Apr 2014), £114,350

Paul Millner, Peter Stockley, Darren Tomlinson, YCR (Apr 2014), £95,874

Carrie Ferguson, Karen Birch, Shaunna Burke, Heart Research UK (Apr 2014), £60,140

Tim Benton, Technology Strategy Board (Apr 2014), £24,969

Bill Kunin, Technology Strategy Board (Apr 2014), £21,244

Dave Westhead, MRC (Apr 2014), £18,304


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