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Wellcome Trust Research Round-up 10.08.15

10 Aug, 2015

Our fortnightly round-up of news from the Wellcome Trust Community

Virus-cell interactions unravelled

B0006938 Common cold virusNew Wellcome-Trust funded research has found that our cells are able to use the viruses that infect them to transport a protein that encourages a stronger immune response, which could lead to the design of more effective vaccines.

When a virus that either contains or produces DNA enters our cells it is detected by a protein called cGAS. This initiates a signalling cascade whereby cGAS produces a small messenger molecule known as cGAMP which stimulates our immune systems to mount a response.

In new research published in Science Express, scientists found that when a virus replicates within our cells, it incorporates small amounts of the cGAMP molecule. Therefore, when the virus enters a new cell the cGAMP immediately triggers an immune response. Viruses from cells producing cGAMP stimulated much more potent immune responses when infecting new cells than viruses from cells unable to produce the molecule.

Researchers are hoping that these findings could help to improve vaccines that use viral vectors, which are designed to promote an immune response against disease. By loading the genetically engineered virus particles with cGAMP a stronger immune response could be triggered, resulting in more effective vaccines.

Wellcome Trust Investigator Professor Jan Rehwinkel from the MRC Human Immunology Unit explained: “We hypothesised that as the virus replicated, cGAMP was incorporated and carried to the next cell to be infected. This may not have been spotted before because in the lab researchers tend to use cells that are free of cGAS and therefore unable to produce cGAMP… It is not yet clear whether cells are tagging these virus particles deliberately or whether it is simply a by-product of how viruses replicate.”

Genetic testing breakthrough for diabetes

7015509987_1ec05e3a0b_zTreatment for children with rare forms of diabetes has been revolutionised thanks to a huge reduction in the time taken for genetic testing to take place.

Previously, it took up to four years for a child who had been diagnosed with diabetes to receive genetic testing. In the past ten years this time lapse has fallen to less than two months, allowing patients to receive the best and most appropriate care as soon as possible.

Doctors no longer use the baby’s symptoms to select which genetic cause of diabetes to test for, but are now able to test for all 22 possible causes at once, further speeding up the full diagnosis.

Rapidly identifying the underlying genetic cause of the disease allows doctors to anticipate any potential healthcare problems that may occur in the future, and plan for these accordingly.

Faster diagnostics is especially essential for the 40% of diabetes patients who have a mutation in the genes for a potassium channel in pancreatic cells. By swapping their insulin injections for sulphonylurea tablets these patients are able to have much better control over their glucose levels.

Professor Andrew Hattersley, a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “In the last decade, we have shown that making a precise diagnosis from genetic testing results in improved treatment and hence we now get samples soon after diabetes is diagnosed from patients throughout the world.  Now the ability to test all genes in a single test means we are able to accurately inform patients and their doctors – not just about the best treatment but also about likely medical problems before they have started.

This research is published in The Lancet.

In other news…

Talking about drug resistant infections

Tackling the rise of antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest challenges of modern times and an issue too big to ignore. We frequently see headlines quoting ‘millions more deaths’ or ‘trillions of pounds’ but does this actually mean anything to the public?

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A response from a participant

The Wellcome Trust recently commissioned research into public attitudes towards antimicrobial resistance, with a major finding being that the language used by the media and scientists is confusing and can leave them feeling distant from the issues. By getting a clearer sense of people’s attitudes, and what had led them to believe these things, we will be able to better our communication around this complex issue.

To find out more about the research and results you can read a previous blog post on the issue here.

Applications now open

Would you like to help shape our funding portfolio? The Wellcome Trust are now recruiting for new members of our funding committees, the groups that form an essential part of the decision process for awarding grants.  We want to increase the diversity of members on these committees so are inviting researchers with excellent track records in their discipline to apply to join. Find out more information in a previous blog post or apply online on the Trust website.

Some of the most highly prized investments in the Wellcome Trust portfolio are the Centres, which bring together people from different disciplines to undertake innovative research. There are currently eight specialist centres, from mitochondrial research to neuroimaging, as well as four Centres of Excellence in Medical Engineering. Last week, Wellcome Trust Director Jeremy Farrar announced an open competition to create new Centres across the UK in all disciplines we fund – this includes social sciences and translational research. Find out more about the Centres competition in a previous post and about how to apply on our website.

Image credits: (from top to bottom) Anna Tanczos, Wellcome Images; The touch of hands by Alex Prolmos via Flickr, CC-BY-NC

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