The University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health has been awarded more than £7.5M funding from the National Institute for Health Research to establish two Health Protection Research Units (HPRU).
These will be in partnership with Public Health England and other institutions, and will be national centres of excellence in multidisciplinary research to protect the nation’s health.
One Liverpool HPRU will be in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections, led by Professor Tom Solomon, in collaboration with Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The other will be in Gastrointestinal Infections, led by Professor Sarah O’Brien, in partnership with the Universities of East Anglia, and Oxford, and the Institute of Food Research.
Emerging infections present significant challenges to human health. These include zoonotic pathogens which are transmitted from animals, such as hantavirus which causes kidney failure. Other pathogens are transmitted by insects or ticks, such as Lyme disease or Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever. Professor Solomon, who is also a Neurologist at The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The HPRU will explore new ways of detecting and characterising pathogens, for example those which cause brain infection. We will also develop novel surveillance and epidemiological approaches, and improve our understanding of disease transmission, and the effect of climate change on this.”
The other HPRU will focus on Gastrointestinal Infections. Diarrhoeal diseases disrupt lives with up to 17 million people affected annually, leading to at least 11 million working days lost to the economy and six million absences from school. They are also very common causes of outbreaks.
Professor O’Brien said: “Conventional approaches to controlling diarrhoeal diseases have not reduced the overall disease burden. We will integrate natural science and social science methodologies to work out how best to control diarrhoeal diseases.”
Professor Solomon added: “Six of the 13 new HPRUs to be funded by NIHR relate specifically to infection. And for Liverpool to host two of these six really cements our position as one of the country’s pre-eminent centres for infection research.
“Given the recent news of a person in Canada dying from brain infection caused by H5N1 bird flu, the first known case of the virus hitting North America, this is an especially important time to be strengthening the UK’s protection against infections. Indeed we have just recently published our own paper in neurological complications of influenza in the UK.”
Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said: “These partnerships will bring together research from academia and Public Health England to ensure world class health protection research in England. I believe they will have a significant impact on the health of the population.”