Funding boost for volunteer infection studies to help combat infectious diseases


Nine research teams are each receiving around £100,000 of seed-funding to help set up new volunteer infection studies. These awards aim to improve understanding of these diseases in order to find better ways to prevent or treat them.

The funding comes from the HIC-Vac network, a joint initiative between the MRC, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). The HIC-Vac network is directed by Professor Peter Openshaw and led from Imperial College London. The Deputy Director, Professor Andrew Pollard, is based at the University of Oxford.  

The studies involve volunteers who are willing to participate in research that intentionally exposes them to disease-causing microbes, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Teams of scientists can then study how the infection first takes hold to find out about the early immune responses.

Volunteer challenge infections can also greatly accelerate the testing of new vaccines and treatments. 

The HIC-Vac network has been given £2.6 million – with the MRC as the main contributor – over four years from August 2017. The projects in this round of funding are focused on diseases that cause a large health burden in low and middle income countries, including influenza, typhoid, and rotavirus. The teams have domestic and global reach, spanning the length and breadth of the UK and further afield, including Zambia, The Gambia, Kenya and The Netherlands.

Dr Martin Broadstock, Programme Manager for Immunology at the MRC, said: “Volunteer infection studies are fundamental in understanding disease because they provide an insight into how infections unfold before patients even present with symptoms. These findings can then drive development of new vaccines or treatments. Our hope is these projects receiving funding may pave the way to improved tools to combat them.” 

Professor Peter Openshaw, Director of HIC-Vac and Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “We urgently need to develop new treatments and vaccines to reduce the global impact of disease. Controlled infection studies involving volunteers greatly accelerates their development. Our network aims to support and inspire the research community; this injection of funding has brought new teams together.

"Research supported by HIC-Vac could have a long-lasting and profound effect on a broad range of diseases including those caused by influenza virus, bacterial pneumonia, typhoid and parasitic worms. It’s an exciting initiative by the MRC and we should thank all the volunteers who are stepping forward for these studies.” 

The funded projects, each receiving around £100,000 in pump-priming grants, are: 

  • Characterisation of host immune responses to Salmonella Typhi in an endemic setting – a comparison of natural typhoid infection with controlled human infection. Dr Roma Chilengi, Centre for Infectious Disease Research Zambia (CIDRZ) (Zambia) 
  • Development of a live attenuated rotavirus vaccine as a human infection challenge model. Dr Roma Chilengi, Centre for Infectious Disease Research Zambia (CIDRZ) (Zambia) 
  • Human challenge with H3N2 influenza: an optimisation pilot study promoting collaboration. Dr Chris Chiu, Imperial College London (UK) 
  • Antibody-mediated innate effector responses in human challenge models. Dr Jennifer Hill, University of Oxford (UK) 
  • Development of a platform to investigate the antigen specificity of CD4 T-cell responses to respiratory pathogens. Dr Giorgio Napolitani, University of Oxford (UK) 
  • Preparing for Schistosoma mansoni controlled human infection studies in Uganda. Dr Meta Roestenberg, Leiden University Medical Center (The Netherlands) 
  • RESpiratory Proteomics in afRican and European subjects (RESPIRE). Dr Charles Sande, KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme (Kenya)
  • Exploring mucosal molecular signatures associated with successful challenge with live attenuated influenza viruses. Dr Thushan De Silva, MRC Unit (The Gambia) 
  • Functional Characterisation of Mucosal Antibodies Against Influenza (MUC-AB). Dr Ryan Thwaites, Imperial College London (UK).

For further information, please visit: the HIC-VAC website


The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health.

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