Thanks to philanthropic support from Community Jameel, a new fund will provide grants of up to $65,000 to propel short-term, high-impact projects that aim to understand, prevent, diagnose and treat coronaviruses and other infectious diseases. The Jameel Fund for Infectious Disease Research and Innovation is funding projects starting in August 2021 which focus on understanding the transmission and pathogenesis of coronaviruses including COVID-19, SARS and MERS.

The projects include ground-breaking technology that enables rapid and effective RNA testing outside of laboratories, new methods to track variants, research into severe COVID-19 in children, and customisable respiratory protective equipment, highlighting the breadth of innovation happening at Imperial in the face of a global pandemic. Community Jameel will also fund a complementary research project at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, with the aim of encouraging international research collaboration in this field.

Imperial is grateful for the philanthropic support of Community Jameel as we continue our fight against the global threat of infectious diseases.

Awards made through the Infectious Disease Research and Innovation Fund

The genetic basis of severe SARS-CoV-2 associated disease in children
Dr Vanessa Sancho-Shimizu, Department of Infectious Disease
Although most children who contract COVID-19 are likely to have very mild illness, a rare yet severe illness can occur in children, known as Paediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome Temporally associated with SARS-CoV-2 (PIMS-TS) This newly identified syndrome is associated with abdominal pain, rashes, fever, respiratory symptoms, and in some cases myocardial injury shock and coronary artery aneurysms. Why these children suffer from severe disease is unknown. This research aims to carry out genetic investigations in children with severe COVID-19 disease and PIMS-TS to understand why these children get ill and highlight potential treatment options.

DragonFly – a frugal, rapid, and sustainable point-of-care colorimetric solution for multi-pathogen detection
Dr Jesus Rodriguez Manzano, Department of Infectious Disease
DragonFly is a rapid diagnostic screening method for detecting COVID-19 and other respiratory pathogens without the need for specialist skills or equipment. The technology uses a novel sample preparation method for RNA extraction, based on magnetic beads and a custom magnetic lid that is electricity-free. This allows extraction of nucleic acids to detect pathogens outside of a laboratory environment enabling point-of-care use, which could have particular impact in low- and middle-income countries where there is less access to the necessary equipment. The project is now aiming to expand DragonFly capabilities to rapidly extract and detect RNA from SARS-CoV-2 and five other respiratory pathogens and develop a smartphone application that will automatically analyse results.

Rapid design-through-manufacture pipeline for respiratory protective equipment during a pandemic crisis
Dr Connor Myant, Dyson School of Design Engineering
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of having effective respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to prevent transmission of coronaviruses among frontline healthcare personnel, critical industry employees and the general public. However, studies have shown significant failure rates for mask-fitting of healthcare personnel which increase transmission rates and endanger lives. This project uses mobile phone 3D facial scanning software to enable mass customisation of respiratory protective equipment for optimal fit, that can be produced and deployed rapidly to health workers. This new funding will enable development of a purpose-built facial scanning app to ensure seamless integration into the design pipeline. 

VoC Dx – A platform for rapid detection of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern using CRISPR-Cas systems
Professor Paul Freemont, Department of Infectious Disease
The goal of this project is to design, develop and test a novel platform for the rapid detection of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern that can provide clinically actionable results and fits within the current diagnostic pathways of NHS laboratories. CRISPR-Cas systems have emerged as a new player in the field of diagnostics, with specific and sensitive detection of viral and bacterial targets. This work will investigate whether CRISPR-Cas systems can be engineered to detect variants of concern in a rapid and effective way, and will provide a library of easily accessible variant standards available to researchers worldwide.   

International collaborations: Partnership grants with King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah

Do pregnancy-related immune changes modify immunity post COVID-19 infection and vaccination?
Dr Nishel Shah, Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction, Imperial College London, Dr Ahdab Alsaieedi, Faculty of Applied Medical Sciences, King Abdulaziz University
Studies suggest that pregnant women are more likely to become severely ill from COVID-19 and have an 8-fold greater risk of persistent symptoms and prolonged recovery compared to non-pregnant women. This collaboration between researchers from Imperial College London and King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah will investigate whether pregnancy-induced changes in the maternal immune system affect the development of long-term immunity after being infected with COVID-19 or vaccinated against it. The study will establish the rate of decline of immunity post-COVID-19 infection or vaccination to assess whether pregnant women have increased susceptibility to infection.