The Medical Research Council (MRC), the Newton Fund and the Wellcome Trust have joined forces to tackle the global threat posed by the Zika virus.

Their move comes after the Zika Rapid Response Initiative launched by the UK-based MRC in February, which saw £1m of funding made available through the Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund. Following this, an additional £1m and up to £2m was contributed by the Wellcome Trust and the Newton Fund respectively plus additional support in Brazil provided by the São Paulo Research Foundation FAPESP. The MRC-led Rapid Response received a total of 103 proposals and funding was awarded to 26 projects with a combined value of £3.2m.

Successful projects were deemed able to provide novel insights into the nature of the virus and/or potential avenues for its management or prevention. Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders a health emergency on 1 February, substantial new clinical and epidemiological research has strengthened the association between Zika infection and the occurrence of fetal malformations and neurological disorders. In addition, the geographical distribution of the disease is now wider. There are currently 52 countries which have reported local transmission of the Zika virus. Applicants were encouraged to work in conjunction with colleagues in affected countries and the successful funding will go towards a wide range of projects across several countries including Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Cape Verde, Kenya and Uganda.

Awards include the development of an online data-sharing platform for images of fetal and newborn heads, improved diagnosis for Zika virus infection through a shared laboratory partnership and further investigation of the link between Zika virus infection and neurological disease. Professor Sir John Savill, the MRC’s chief executive, said:  “Two very important elements needed to come together in order to respond to the global health threat from the Zika virus – agility and capacity. “Our Rapid Response Initiative allowed us to allocate funding to this global research challenge within a very short time frame, and valuable contributions from the Wellcome Trust and the Newton Fund created the capacity to match the remarkably strong response we received from the research community. Working in partnership is vital if we are to successfully tackle the health risks posed by emerging infections such as the Zika virus.”

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “This government’s decision to invest in science and innovation and protect science spending means we are able to react to emerging global threats like the Zika virus and allow the world class scientists we have here in the UK to conduct ground breaking and potentially life-saving research. By increasing this funding, and with the support of the Wellcome Trust, more of this vital work can now get started.”

Encouraging results

Research carried out in America  says that a high dose of vitamin D is safe and may be beneficial for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). The study looked at 40 people with relapsing-remitting MS. They either received a high dose of 10,400 IU vitamin D supplements per day, or a lower dose of 800 IU per day for six months. The current recommended daily allowance for vitamin D for people aged 1 to 70 years is 600 IU. Study author Peter A. Calabresi, M.D. of Johns Hopkins University said. “More research is needed to confirm these findings with larger groups of people and to help us understand the mechanisms for these effects, but the results are promising.”

Biology course to run

Professors in the Coastal Biology Flagship Program at the University of North Florida have been awarded a grant for more than $300,000 by the National Science Foundation to continue the development of a research internship for undergraduate students from all over the country to study coastal ecosystems. Ten undergraduate students are being recruited to participate in a 10-week summer programme, which is focused on coastal biology, particularly threats including ecological and economic damage due to invasive species, climate change, pollution, overharvest of fisheries resources and habitat loss due to overdevelopment.

Investment secured

American company Zivo Bioscience has secured $1 million in funding advances from investors and lenders to help it develop projects and studies focused on commercialization of its proprietary algal products. The work includes developing bovine feed additives to improve milking productivity for cattle herds.