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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
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
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Tom Bennett, 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