Imperial College is unique in having extensive research activity in all the major fields of infectious disease, incorporating an extremely diverse range of pathogens. Bacterial infection is represented by many groups, focussed largely but not exclusively in the Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection at South Kensington. Specific areas of innovation include the development of signature tagged mutagenesis to identify key genes involved in microbial pathogenesis, and the application of structural biology to characterise proteins essential for invasion and colonisation of host cells.
Virology is extensively covered by research teams at the St Mary’s campus and elsewhere. A major emphasis is on immunity to infection, viral persistence and pathogenesis. We have particular strengths in retrovirology, tumour virology and viral strategies for evasion of the host immune response. Additional interests are in cell cycle control, mechanisms of transmission and identification of factors responsible for immunopathogenesis. St Mary’s is also the site for the Wellcome Trust Centre for Clinical Tropical Medicine, which coordinates much of the applied work on tropical diseases.
Eukaryotic pathogens are well represented by protozoa and helminths. A major focus on malaria is centred on transmission by the mosquito vector, and we are providing an innovative lead in genetic manipulation as a means of vector control and in order to study mechanisms of innate immunity in these insects. Nematode parasites infect over one third of the world’s population, and methods of genetic manipulation are being developed to dissect the mechanisms these parasites use to suppress host immunity. Imperial College is also unusual in having expertise in molecular mycology, located on the South Kensington campus.
These research activities are underpinned by very strong groups working in mainstream immunology, molecular cell biology and structural biology. Through the Wellcome Trust 4 year programme, PhD students come to understand how the interaction of virulence factors with the host can lead to the design of anti-infective strategies, which may involve macromolecular modelling and combinatorial chemistry, or immune modulation and vaccine design. The Programme provides students with an outstanding opportunity to train in areas of basic and clinical science which have direct relevance to the development of novel approaches to the prevention and treatment of infection.