Faculty scientists are joining the global fight to eradicate polio by developing a new type of vaccine that can trick the body to develop immunity against the disease.
The project has been awarded $500,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, through the World Health Organisation, and aims to be effective against all polio subtypes.
Led by Professor Dave Rowlands and Dr Nicola Stonehouse from the University's Faculty of Biological Sciences, the research team will design a replica virus particle that looks and behaves like the real virus, but is actually an empty protein shell.
The researchers believe the hoax virus will trigger the body's immune system, but because it does not contain the genetic blueprint that replicates the virus inside the body, has no chance of causing or helping to spread the disease.
"This is an entirely new strategic approach against polio," says Dr Stonehouse. "This project is not about improving the efficiency of the current types of vaccine. Our intention is to design and produce a replica virus particle that carries no RNA cargo. This means it will be entirely safe to use as it can't ever cause the disease, and unlike current vaccines, can be produced without needing to grow large amounts of the infectious virus."
The team, led by Leeds, brings together researchers from Harvard University, the University of Oxford and the UK's National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), a centre of the Health Protection Agency. The first stage of the research will focus on proving that that the new approach is viable against the virus.
Current polio vaccines in use around the world are either delivered orally or injected, but contain either a weakened form of the virus, or an inactivated virus to kickstart the immune response. Whilst these have been extremely successful in reducing polio globally, the virus persists in several countries and unexpected outbreaks still occur.
"What excites me about this project is that we're working towards a risk-free vaccine that will be essential for the complete eradication of polio from the globe," adds Dr Stonehouse. "As well as being safe to produce and use, it will be stable enough not to need refrigeration and could be injected as part of current childhood vaccination programmes."
Although a similar approach using replica virus particles has been used successfully to create the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine against cervical cancer, the complexity of the polio virus creates significant additional challenges.
"With polio, the virus particle's surface matures and changes because of the genetic material inside, and so ensuring that our replica particle mimics this surface exactly is not going to be easy. Since it's essentially an empty protein shell, it also has to be robust enough that it doesn't fall apart," explains Professor Rowlands. "This will be an iterative process, where we keep testing, refining and improving the particles we design until we achieve exactly the right structure and surface."
"We believe that if the project is successful, this new approach could help to completely eradicate this disease for good."
Jessica Kwok and Ronaldo Ichiyama, International Spinal Research Trust (Feb 2018), £94,450
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
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
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000