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.
Stephen Muench with Glaxo SmithKline & UCB Celltech, BBSRC Industrial Partnership Award (Apr 2018), £480,225
Steve Clapcote, BBSRC (Apr 2018), £443,072
Helen Miller, Innovate UK (Apr 2018), £999,960
Elisabetta Groppelli, David Rowlands & Stanley Lemon (University of North Carolina), Medical Research Foundation Fellowship (Apr 2018), £293,494
Nikesh Patel, Medical Research Foundation fellowship (Apr 2018), £290,976
Graham Askew with colleagues in Hull and Liverpool, BBSRC (Apr 2018), £150,498
Andrew Macdonald, Neil Ranson & Richard Foster, Kidney Research UK (Apr 2018), £82,821
Jessica Kwok & Ralf Richter, Leverhulme Trust (Apr 2018), £298,273
Julie Aspden, Royal Society (Apr 2018), £20,000
Liz Duncan, Royal Society (Mar 2018), £14,602
Alex O'Neill & Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £45,489
Jim Deuchars, Royal Society (Feb 2018), £16,300
Stefan Kepinski & Netta Cohen, Leverhulme Trust (Feb 2018), £320,387
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £49,950
Alison Baker, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Scott Bowen, Leducq Foundation Grant (Feb 2018), £28,470
Jessica Kwok and Ronaldo Ichiyama, International Spinal Research Trust (Feb 2018), £94,450
Alex O'Neill, Oxford Drug Design (Jan 2018), £86,098
Dave Lewis and Colleagues in South Africa, HEFCE Global Challenge Research (Jan 2018), £48,000
Sarah Calaghan, Ed White, John Colyer, Isuru Jayasinghe, BHF (Jan 2018), £128,308
Christine Foyer and Alison Baker, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £71,158
Alison Baker, Yun Yung Gong and Lindsay Stringer and ICRISAT India, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £27,000
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2017), £18,000
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
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
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Elton Zeqiraj, 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