Business Secretary Vince Cable has officially opened the BBSRC National Virology Centre, a containment laboratory based at The Pirbright Institute in Surrey.

The £135m laboratories have been developed to strengthen the UK’s ability to prevent and control virus diseases of livestock and viruses that spread from animals to people. Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the laboratory uses bio-containment technologies developed for The Pirbright Institute to allow scientists to study diseases such as bluetongue, foot-and-mouth disease, avian influenza and African swine fever. The new centre will help them to predict and prevent outbreaks and develop vaccines and diagnostics

Mr Cable, said: “Disease spreading from animals to humans isn’t a plot from a Hollywood movie. Its results can have devastating impact on our health and the health of the countryside economy. This new centre will help protect both.” Professor John Fazakerley, Director, The Pirbright Institute, said: “Our new high-containment facilities have an exceptionally high standard of design and finish and will allow us to retain and recruit the very best expertise and continue to deliver high-impact science. “The impact of the Institute’s science is global, its facilities and expertise provide a national capability and its work makes a strong contribution to health and economic prosperity in the UK and worldwide.” Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: “In an era of global trade and climate change the UK cannot rely on its island status to protect us and cutting-edge science and facilities are vital to safeguard against these threats.” There is evidence that the approach works as scientists increasingly understand the way such diseases function.

For example, BBSRC-funded scientists at Pirbright saved the nation an estimated £480m and protected 10,000 jobs in the rural economy during the last bluetongue outbreak through their forecasting of the threat posed by the disease. Pirbright research and surveillance was also used to eradicate rinderpest – a disease that devastated European cattle herds in the early modern period and which until recently destroyed livelihoods and caused great animal welfare problems in Africa. The Institute’s research regularly brings forward new vaccines and diagnostics in partnership with commercial companies.

New information on molecule

Scientists have cast new light on what allows some cases of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS), a non-invasive form of breast cancer, to resist treatment Researchers from The University of Manchester and University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust investigated the role of the molecule FAK in controlling the resistance of DCIS to radiation. The team found that blocking the activity of FAK reduces the growth of breast cancer stem cells and improves sensitivity to radiotherapy.

Immune system boosted

Scientists have developed a new method of boosting the ageing immune system. Early tests in mice show that the compound allows the immune system to mount a more powerful protective response following vaccination. The compound, called spermidine, is now being developed by the researchers at the Medical Research Council Human Immunology Unit at Oxford University as a potential drug to make vaccines more effective in the elderly.

New cancer drug

University of Manchester scientists have shown that a new drug inhibits the growth of tumours in the laboratory. Their work suggests that the AstraZeneca drug AZD3965 could be a new cancer treatment. The team looked at small cell lung cancer cells and Professor Ian Stratford, who led the research, said: “This drug is currently being tested in clinical trials as a single agent, and we’ve shown that combining this drug with radiotherapy could offer a new treatment approach for cancer patients.”