Projects supported by the Research and Innovation Fund in Round 2
In August 2022, Imperial College London and Community Jameel announced the second round of projects to receive funding from The Jameel Fund for Infectious Disease Research and Innovation, which provides grants of up to $65,000 for short-term high-impact research projects that advance our ability to understand, prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases.
Following on from the success of the first round, which supported five projects focused on coronaviruses such as Covid-19, SARS and MERS, the second round of funding will additionally focus on other respiratory viruses and their pathogenesis (how disease develops) and transmission.
The projects focus on the role genetics play in the severity of COVID-19 infections, how long COVID symptoms change throughout the menstrual cycle, the impact of pregnancy upon COVID-19 immunity, and the different ways in which lungs are affected by COVID-19 and other viral infections.
Imperial is grateful for the ongoing philanthropic support of Community Jameel as we work to protect the world from the threat of respiratory viruses.
Awards made through the Infectious Disease Research and Innovation Fund
Functional genomics for prognosis on clinical nasopharyngeal swab samples
Dr Roya Haghighat-Khah and Professor Andrea Crisanti, Department of Life Sciences
Dr Roya Haghighat-Khah and Professor Andrea Crisanti have won an award to deploy next generation RNA sequencing in a project that lays the groundwork to better understand the role of human genetic factors in COVID-19 disease severity. Led by Dr Haghighat-Khah, and in collaboration with Professor Graham Taylor (Department of Infectious Diseases) and Dr Nik Matthews (Imperial Genomics Facility), the team will design a sequencing protocol for analysing human tissue from swabs using a platform that has been successfully used before to tackle other infectious diseases, such as malaria. The research could lead to a combined COVID-19 test that diagnoses infection and identifies patients more at risk of developing severe symptoms.
Mechanisms of Long COVID variation over the menstrual cycle: does hormonal contraception ameliorate cyclical symptoms?
Professor Danny Altmann, Department of Immunology and Inflammation
Professor Altmann, with Professors Viki Male and Rosemary Boyton, aim to determine if long COVID symptoms vary during the menstrual cycle and why they might change. The team will also explore whether this differs for individuals using combined hormonal contraception. Previous data suggests that long COVID symptoms are the most severe during the premenstrual and menstrual phase of the cycle, and the team will look to verify this by following a group of more than 400 people who suffer from long COVID. Another objective of the research is to understand whether and how immune dysfunction varies over the menstrual cycle in those with long COVID.
Investigating the role and mechanism of respiratory epithelial dysfunction in long COVID
Dr James Harker, National Heart & Lung Institute
Infection from the SARS-CoV-2 virus can lead to long term lung damage and respiratory complications such as breathlessness and a persistent cough. Dr Harker will aim to better understand how the virus, SARS-CoV-2, develops into COVID19 and in turn can result in long term changes to the respiratory epithelium – the cell lining in our airways. This research could help identify people more at risk of post-COVID-19 respiratory disease, the causes behind this, and could help improve future treatments.
Understanding immunopathology after SARS-CoV-2 infection using a mouse model
Dr Cecilia Johansson, National Heart & Lung Institute
Many millions of people who have experienced COVID-19 are left with damaged lungs, fatigue and shortness of breath, among other symptoms, often described as ‘long COVID.’ This is expected to have a long-term impact on the respiratory health and overall life quality of a significant fraction of the population for years to come. Dr Johansson will aim to better understand the long-term impact of COVID-19 disease on the lungs by studying mice, including possible differences in long-term consequences with different variants of the virus. As well as providing understanding, this research could identify possible new treatments for long COVID.
Do pregnancy-related immune changes modify immunity post COVID-19 infection and vaccination?
Dr Nishel Shah, Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction
In 2021, Dr Nishel Shah and team were awarded funding by Community Jameel to investigate whether long-term immunity following COVID-19 infection and vaccination is impacted when they take place during pregnancy. In collaboration with Dr Ahdab AlSaieedi of King Abdulaziz University, the latest round of funding will allow Dr Shah’s team to complete the project, which has so far produced preliminary findings that show that pregnant women who have had a COVID-19 infection can experience a delay in achieving peak levels of protective antibodies and an earlier decline of their presence in the immune system. Additionally, data from this study identified a number of important protective features of maternal immune cells that are unaffected by COVID-19 infection. Dr Shah’s team will also be investigating whether infection or vaccination provides immunity to emerging strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Investigation into the role of airway microbial dysbiosis as a driver of post-viral lung fibrosis
Dr Aran Singanayagam, Department of Infectious Disease
Long-term impact on the lungs is a well-recognised complication in patients who have had severe COVID-19, and Dr Singanayagam says the reasons behind persistent lung inflammation and scarring in some patients after recovery are poorly understood. In collaboration with Dr Abujamel of King Abdulaziz University, his research will investigate the mechanisms driving this, with the hope of developing future approaches to target these pathways and prevent disease.
Fostering research connections
Researchers at Imperial College London and King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia discuss how support from the Jameel Fund for Infectious Disease Research and Innovation is strengthening collaborations between the two universities as they work together to address the global threat of coronaviruses and other respiratory diseases.