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Wellcome Trust Research Round-up: 24.11.14

24 Nov, 2014

Our fortnightly round-up of research news from the Wellcome Trust community…

Discovery of gene variant leading to natural typhoid resistance

B0004685 DNAPeople who carry a particular gene have natural resistance against typhoid, according to a new study that examined the genetic material of hundreds of people in Vietnam and Nepal.

The study, published in Nature Genetics, involved screening the human genome to look for genes associated with susceptibility to, or resistance from, typhoid. Also known as enteric fever, typhoid affects more than 25 million people annually.

According to lead researcher Dr Sarah Dunstan, from the Oxford University Clinical Research Units in Vietnam and Nepal, a Wellcome Trust Major Overseas Programme, said: “We found that carrying a particular form of the HLA-DRB1 gene provides natural resistance against typhoid fever. This gene codes for a receptor that is important in the immune response, by recognising proteins from invading bacteria.”

The study’s findings are important because the gene that gives rise to protection against typhoid is one of the most widespread instances of natural resistance to an infectious disease. Other examples of genetic variation that leads to natural immunity include the gene for sickle cell that protects carriers from malaria, and the CCR5 and HLA genes that provide protection from HIV AIDS.

New frontiers in paediatric pain

The research of Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellow Dr Rebeccah Slater, who studies paediatric and infant pain, is explored in a film produced by the University of Oxford.

Dr Slater’s most recent paper investigated how the new-born brain is activated by sensory stimulation of the skin. This was a pilot study of a small group of infants, testing the feasibility of using fMRI studies to look at how infant brains react to mechanical stimulation of their skin. Initial results showed distinct patterns of brain activation in response to varying intensities and types of stimulation, indicating potential for future studies to explore this further.

Understanding the infant sensory experience and pain is key to developing ethical treatments and providing effective pain relief for the very young. For example, Dr Slater’s previous work has challenged a common practice of doctors giving sugar as pain relief to new-borns, for example during heel-prick blood sampling.

International E. Coli study raises hope for vaccine

B0003279 E.coli on agar - colour-enhancedWellcome Trust supported researchers have conducted the largest ever study of the bacterium enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli, providing hope that a single global vaccine can be developed.

This bacterium causes 400,000 deaths and 400 million cases of diarrhoea each year in low-and-middle-income countries as well as affecting many travellers to these regions.

The study, published in Nature Genetics, looked at 362 different strains of E. Coli from 20 countries and found that strains clustered into closely related groups. The bacteria sampled from Asia, Africa and Latin America were more closely related than previously thought, with some strains of E. coli found to have spread from a single source. The discovery of large genetic similarities in the strains add support to the idea that one vaccine may effective for treating patients around the world.

“This research strengthens our belief that it is possible to target a broad range of enterotoxigenic E. coli groups with one vaccine,” says Professor Gordon Dougan, senior author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. “By targeting the most prevalent colonisation factors in these lineages, we stand a chance of developing a vaccine that will reduce the disease burden caused by this bacterium. This work is now underway at the Sanger Institute.”

In other news…

Genomics England has opened applications for clinicians and researchers to join a new Clinical Interpretation Partnership, working with data from the 100,000 Genomes Project. The Wellcome Trust provided £27m funding for a sequencing hub that will house the project, which aims to sequence 100,000 genomes from NHS patients by 2017.

Dame Kay Davies, Wellcome Trust Deputy Chair, has been awarded a WISE Lifetime Achievement Award for her career researching Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and championing women in science.

The Mental health research charity MQ: Transforming Mental Health has announced £1.5 million in funding awards to support innovative ways of providing more effective and accessible psychological treatments for conditions such as anxiety, depression and ADHD.

Image credit: DNA sequencing – Neil Leslie, Wellcome Images ,E. Coli –  David Gregory&Debbie Marshall, Wellcome Images

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