Researchers from the University's Faculty of Biological Sciences aim to find out exactly how the virus infects animals and spreads - a first step in developing a treatment for the disease. An effective treatment would mean that millions of healthy livestock would not need to be slaughtered, as took place in 2001, to combat an FMD epidemic. Treatment of the disease could replace emergency vaccination in the event of an outbreak.
The Leeds research will focus on discovering the exact mechanism the FMD virus (FMDV) uses to penetrate the cell's membrane. The virus can only replicate and spread once it is inside a cell in the animal host, so this mechanism is a key issue in fighting the disease.
FMDV is highly infectious and spreads very quickly, but many details of the replication of the virus are still poorly understood. Because FMD is classed as a dangerous pathogen, only one laboratory in the UK - the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright, in Surrey - is licensed to work with the actual virus. The Leeds group have overcome this obstacle by searching out another - less dangerous - virus that can be used as a model for FMDV: equine rhinitis. This discovery could also help to expand the range of research carried out on FMDV - enabling much needed advances before the UK is faced with another outbreak.
Professor David Rowlands, who is heading the research, said: "Although FMDV belongs to a family of well-known and well-studied viruses â?? which includes polio and the common cold â?? the mechanism it uses to enter cells is completely different to these viruses. However, our work has shown that equine rhinitis virus appears to use a similar mechanism to FMDV, so weâ??re confident it will work as an effective model for the virus."
"Research into FMD has been limited by the necessary restrictions on working with the virus, but having a model will allow research to be carried out more widely. Scientific advances come more quickly when a number of groups are working on a problem and can share ideas and explore different avenues."
The Leeds researchers will be working closely with the Institute for Animal Health, so that any findings from equine rhinitis virus can be tested by scientists at Pirbright directly with FMDV.
If the research is successful, the next step would be to develop a treatment which could prevent the virus from infecting cells and so stop the spread of the disease. Current plans in the event of a FMD outbreak focus on culling infected animals and emergency vaccination of surrounding livestock to prevent the spread of the disease, but the Leeds team believe treatment - if it could be developed - would provide a better alternative.
"There is still no vaccination which provides life-long immunity against all strains," explained co-researcher Professor Richard Killington. "A number of problems still exist with vaccination: it takes five days to be effective, produces FMDV antibodies in the animals and the tests which distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals have still to be validated. Vaccination is currently the only scientific alternative to mass culling, but if a treatment could be found, it would be a better option. A treatment would be immediately effective, produce no antibodies and so work more effectively to isolate any outbreak. We're a long way from that yet - but this research is the first step on the ladder."
The research is funded through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The Institute for Animal Health is a BBSRC-sponsored research institute.
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792
Richard Bayliss, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2017), £1,600,000
John Barr, EU (Jan 2017), £339,000
Mark Harris, Royal Society (Jan 2017), £250,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Jan 2017), £105,000
Alex Breeze, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (Jan 2017), £180,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2016), £18,000
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Dec 2016), £1,681,835
Brendan Davies, Leverhulme Trust (Dec 2016), £247,555
Alan Benson, Mark Drinkhill, Ed White, British Heart Foundaion (Dec 2016), £217,223
Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Dec 2016), £82,999
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, RCUK (Nov 2016), £484,172
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, Wellcome Trust (Nov 2016), £119,343
Katie Field, Rank Prize Funds (Nov 2016), £20,000