Sheffield awarded funding to protect children around the world from the influenza virus

  • The University of Sheffield receives US$400k grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Funding will be used to assess if seasonal live attenuated influenza vaccines (LAIV) can produce a more broadly protective immune response if given to young children before they have been naturally exposed to the influenza virus
  • Project will hopefully contribute towards the development of a new, universal influenza vaccine strategy
  • In some countries, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, influenza contributes to some of the highest preventable death-rates in children

Image of a nasal flu vaccine

Research into protecting children globally from the influenza virus has been given a US$449,156 boost from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr Thushan de Silva, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, will assess whether giving children current seasonal live attenuated influenza vaccines (LAIV) before being naturally exposed to the virus, enables them to generate antibodies to protect against many different strains of the flu.

Dr Thushan De SilvaDr de Silva said: “There is increasing evidence that the first encounters we have with the influenza virus as a child can shape how susceptible we are to different influenza viruses throughout life.

“If we can find out if vaccinating young children before they are exposed can provide broader and longer-term immunity, it would open up new avenues to repurpose current seasonal vaccines within a broader universal influenza vaccine strategy and significantly advance the timeline to achieving this.”

Dr de Silva works with the Medical Research Unit, The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where his recent research demonstrated the importance of vaccine strain selection to ensure a robust immune response to LIAV. This will form the basis for the new project funded by the foundation.

The project team will also partner closely with Florian Krammer, PhD, Professor of Microbiology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and co-director of the Mount Sinai-Emory Multi-Institutional Vaccine Center in New York, who established state-of-the-art methods to characterise immune responses to the influenza virus.

The project has the potential to be incredibly significant to countries where the burden of influenza contributes to some of the highest preventable death-rates in children globally.

Dr Thushan de Silva

“The project has the potential to be incredibly significant to countries where the burden of influenza contributes to some of the highest preventable death-rates in children globally, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa¹, which don’t have the resources to provide country-wide seasonal flu vaccination programmes,” Dr de Silva added.

“These countries are therefore most vulnerable in the event of future influenza pandemics, so developing universal influenza vaccine strategies is applicable the world over, but especially to such countries.”

He added: “We are really excited to receive the grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and have the opportunity to partner with one of the leading influenza laboratories in the world. This will complement our field and laboratory studies in The Gambia, as part of our collective efforts to develop universal influenza virus vaccine strategies.”

Francesco Berlanda-Scorza from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “We look forward to working with Dr de Silva and his collaborators. This important research project will focus on elucidating the different immunological responses to live attenuated vaccines, particularly early in life, in children who have already experienced influenza infections and those who haven’t. This initiative fits within our broader interest to develop a universal influenza vaccine, aiming to reduce the burden of future pandemic outbreaks in developing countries.”

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

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