Researchers from The Pirbright Institute, led by Head of the Avian Viral Diseases Programme, Professor Venugopal Nair, are to be part of a £6.2M BBSRC-funded project to develop rapid responses to emerging poultry viruses.
The funding boost will also help to establish the next generation of poultry virologists to work in a scientific area where the UK has traditionally been strong.
The ‘Developing Rapid Responses to Emerging Virus Infections of Poultry’ project will be led by Dr Michael Skinner, Imperial College London, to enable the recognition of emerging viruses before widespread infections occur, prepare for the possibility of new subtypes of avian influenza, and help to develop better vaccines for poultry and humans.
In addition to boosting knowledge, the funding will increase effort in poultry virology in anticipation of new facilities at The Pirbright Institute and the multi-million pound national avian research facility, which is a collaboration between The Roslin Institute and The Pirbright Institute.
Professor Nair said “This funding will help secure effective capacity and closer working between the UK academic institutions, in advance of the commissioning of new world-class facilities, to enable the study of the world's most devastating poultry viruses.
As well as The Pirbright Institute, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC, experts from The Roslin Institute (also in receipt of strategic funding from BBSRC), St George's University of London and the University of Cambridge will be involved in the project.
This research will address important scientific challenges to allow better isolation and diagnosis of emerging viruses as well as faster and better production of vaccines against them. Scientists will study endemic and exotic viruses in an era when new poultry viruses rapidly cross national and continental boundaries to become global problems.
Dr Michael Skinner, Imperial College London, said “One area of the research will help us to identify infections early. We are looking for distinct signatures that appear upon infection of cells in the lab. We can use these signatures to create means of detecting new viruses, especially in elite breeder flocks, where the UK and Europe has an important global commercial presence”.
Poultry virus research is vital, not only for the protection of an important source of animal protein to feed a growing world population, but also for human health. Poultry virus research enabled the development of the influenza vaccine and the use of interferons as antiviral medicine.
Dr Skinner added “The study of poultry viruses has made an important contribution to the development of the modern science of virology. We also need to understand the way viruses interact with chicken cells because isolation and diagnosis of viruses is often conducted in eggs or avian cells and some important vaccines, including those for seasonal and pandemic influenza, are produced in them”.