Some of Imperial's current research into infectious diseases are outlined below.
Applied HIV Epidemiology Research Group
Dr Timothy Hallett
In the 30 years since its discovery, HIV has claimed 25 million lives. Today an estimated 33 million are infected with the virus. HIV remains a key public health concern worldwide as the virus influences populations in a variety of ways.
The Applied HIV Epidemiology Research Group is interested in tracking the course of the global epidemic, understanding how transmission is supported, examining the potential for interventions to reduce spread and in evaluating the impact of actual programmes.
Centre for Respiratory Infection
The Centre for Respiratory Infection integrates a cross-College network of investigators to develop, test and apply innovative interventions in respiratory infections. It promotes systematic and interdisciplinary research into the immunobiology and pathogenesis of respiratory infections in animals and humans, with the aim of enhancing preparedness for future outbreaks of respiratory infection. Current research themes include influenza and other severe fulminant infections, Common cold agents: RSV and rhinovirus, Bacterial infections (excluding TB) and Tuberculosis.
The Centre assisted in the establishment of the Imperial College Respiratory research unit, enabling fundamental studies of the effects of innate and acquired immunity on respiratory infections. It has supported the Mechanisms of Severe Acute Influenza Consortium (MOSAIC) project: the first opportunity for a large scale, hospital-based investigation of the viral, genetic, immunological and molecular events underlying influenza infection.Bronchiolitis is the commonest single cause of infantile hospital admission. It is mostly caused by RSV, a virus that causes lung inflammation, difficulty breathing and is linked with later asthma. The Centre has supported the Immune Regulation of Viral Lung Disease project, a study that aims to lead to discoveries about how to control the excessive inflammation in brochiolitis, and the design of protective vaccines.
Epidemiology and Control of Malaria
Professor Azra Ghani
Despite encouraging declines in disease over the past decade, malaria remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The group’s research takes a biological approach to constructing models to better understand the transmission dynamics of malaria both within the human and vector hosts and between hosts. From a public health perspective they are using these models to consider how interventions can be optimally combined to reduce transmission and ultimately to lead to local elimination.
For more information, visit their website
Helminth Ecology Research Group
Macroparasites are important causes of morbidity worldwide. Apart from the direct effects of infection, they may also have immunosuppressive effects that render hosts vulnerable to more lethal pathogens.
The research group focuses on the population biolo gy, transmission dynamics, and mathematical modelling of helmi nth (parasitic worm) infections of humans in addition to other infectious diseases of poverty. The primary objective of the research is to understand the population ecology of the parasites and their intermediate hosts / vectors, so that the research will underpin the rational design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of intervention strategies for the control/ elimination of such infections.
Professor Wendy Barclay
The Influenza Group are researching the interaction of the Influenza virus with the host cell and the way in which this can limit host range, for example to prevent avian influenza viruses crossing the species barrier to infect and transmit between humans. To study these problems, the lab uses the technique of reverse genetics by which recombinant influenza viruses can be generated from cDNAs. In this way, specific viral mutants can be created to test out hypotheses about regions of the viral genome that determine the features of the virus. Changing just one amino acid in one of the genes of an avian influenza virus can transform its ability to grow in human cells. Using the same technique, the lab has been able to generate new vaccines against human and avian influenza strains.
International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI)
Dr Jill Gilmour
International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and its partners are advancing a diverse portfolio of select preventative HIV vaccine candidates.
IAVI’s Research & Development team designs and develops HIV vaccine candidates, and conducts vaccine trials and related epidemiological research in partnership with more than 50 academic, biotechnology, pharmaceutical and governmental institutions. IAVI works with partners to advocate for the development of preventive AIDS vaccines as an essential component of a comprehensive response to the HIV pandemic.
MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology Infection
Professor David Holden
The MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection (CMBI) is a cross-faculty, multidisciplinary research centre comprising over 55 academic and postdoctoral research staff and 35 postgraduate students.
The CMBI, funded by the Medical Research Council and Imperial, was established in July 2012 and has a unique focus on the study of disease-causing bacteria. Research themes include infection genomics, cellular and structural microbiology, host innate immunity and antimicrobial resistance and persistence.
MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling
Professor Neil Ferguson
The world-leading MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling was founded in March 2007 following a push to support translational research.
It is an international resource and centre of excellence for research on the epidemiological analysis and modelling of infectious disease outbreaks, with a uniquely strong emphasis on public health translation. It has built a world-leading group of epidemiological researchers to undertake applied collaborative work with national and international agencies to support policy planning and response operations against emerging and endemic infectious disease threats.
The Centre has established long-term collaborative partnerships with national and international public health agencies, and is working in priority areas for these organisations, including Public Health England (PHE), WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The Centre has extensive experience advising governments and international agencies on the control of a wide range of diseases, including influenza, SARS, polio, HIV, BSE and foot-and-mouth disease.
Point of care testing for HIV patients
Dr Graham Cooke
Dr Cooke is a clinical researcher with an interest in HIV co-infection and diagnostics, particularly those suitable for point of care use. He is currently funded to work with an Imperial spin out company (DNA Electronics Ltd) to develop a point of care device for HIV viral load monitoring.
Alongside this work he has a particular interest in HIV/hepatitis in resource poor setting and is involved in a range of epidemiological and clinical studies to understand how best to tackle this neglected problem
For more information, visit their website
T Cell Immunology and Lymphocyte Homeostasis
Professor Gavin Screaton
The dengue virus is endemic in many parts of the world, especially in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific. The World Health Organisation estimates that a fifth of the world’s population is at risk, with around 50 million infections each year. 1 in 20 cases leads to severe leakage from the circulatory system, which can result in shock, haemorrhage, and in rare cases, can be fatal. Currently there are no drugs or vaccines available to combat the disease. Scientists know very little about why some people suffer severe illness while others can be infected without showing any symptoms.
A major research theme of the laboratory is the immune response to dengue virus infection where immunopathology contributes to the severity of disease. The group is particularly interested in the role of T cells in promoting this severe disease on secondary infection. The lab has begun a research program to study the antibody response to dengue infection which they hope will have relevance to both the pathogenesis of the disease and may give insights into what sort of response would be desirable in a dengue vaccine.
Further information can be found on their website
The human leukaemia virus, HTLV-1
Professor Charles Bangham
Human T lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) infection is widespread in subsaharan Africa, Latin America, the Car ibbean, Japan, and ce ntral Australia. The virus, a distant cousin of HIV-1, causes two distinct forms of dise ase: an aggressive leu kaemia in 5% of infected individuals – the chief cause of adult leukaemia in Japan – and a chronic paralytic disease in a further 1 – 4%; there is no effective treatment and no vaccine.
The aim of our research is to explain how HTLV-1 persists despite the strong host immune response and why the virus causes fatal or disabling diseases in certain individuals while the majority remain asymptomatic. We use a wide range of techniques in molecular genetics, virology, immunology, cell biology and mathematical biology. The group’s work has made a significant impact on the understanding of the persistence, pathogenesis and spread of many chronic viral infections.
For more information, visit their website.
The Tuberculosis Research Centre
Professor Ajit Lalvani
The Tuberculosis Research Centre, led by Professor Ajit Lalvani, addresses the world’s most serious respiratory infections: tuberculosis and pandemic influenza.
The Centre’s work has transformed our understanding of the natural history of TB infection, uncovered the mechanism of action of the BCG vaccine and defined the blueprint for a new universal pandemic influenza vaccine. The scientific discoveries have been translated into practical solutions for tackling infectious diseases including the FDA-approved, NICE-endorsed ELISpot IGRA (interferon-gamma release-assay), which has transformed diagnosis and screening of TB. The ongoing research programme probes the immunologic and genetic factors that shape the natural history and clinical outcomes of TB and influenza infection, whilst maintaining a strong translational theme by developing next-generation biomarkers for diagnosis, prognosis and risk-stratification of TB and influenza infection.
Recently, the group’s epidemiological and public health research in collaboration with Public Health England (PHE) delivered the evidence-base and blueprint for the new PHE and NHS National TB Strategy.
Tuberculosis Research Group
Professor Jon Friedland
Tuberculosis is a worldwide threat affecting about a third of the world's population and killing over 2 million each year. Increased drug resistance in the form of multi- and extreme-drug resistant disease (MDR/XDR-TB) is a major emergent threat.
The Tuberculosis Research Group (TRG) has a broad-based, highly successful research programme undertaken both in modern laboratories on the Hammersmith campus of Imperial and overseas particularly in their main base in Peru where Dr Carlton Evans runs a large group. The majority of research work is part of a collaboration between Imperial and the Universidad Cayetano Heredia Peruana, Lima, Peru and Johns Hopkins University, USA. Currently, there is an emerging TB research collaboration with Professor R. Wilkinson in Cape Town, South Africa.
The group undertakes three main areas of research, including innate immune responses to infection and the role of matrix metalloproteinases in the tissue destruction which results in morbidity and mortality in tuberculosis and novel diagnostic approaches to infection such as the MODS assay and factors influencing susceptibility to tuberculosis. Research is supported by diverse sources including the MRC (UK), the NIHR and the Wellcome Trust including the Imperial College London Wellcome Trust Centre for Global Health Research.
Understanding and intervening in HIV-1 associated tuberculosis
Professor Robert Wilkinson
HIV and TB are amongst the most pressing public health problems in Africa. Through their studies, the group has revealed that by early adulthood, more than 80% of people in townships are infected with TB. The group has investigated the effects and mechanisms of preventative therapies, including antiretroviral therapy, isoniazid and vitamin D.
Severe vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent amongst black Africans and associated with HIV-TB. This opens the possibility of a low-cost intervention that we are exploring via the possibility of a clinical trial.
A clinical trial of antiretrovirals (ART) versus ART plus isoniazid (IPT) for the prevention of TB showed IPT reduced the incidence of tuberculosis by 37% in HIV-infected individuals on ART: findings that have already been incorporated into national and WHO policy.