Gastrointestinal Infections Group

Current Projects

  • Rotavirus in Malawi

    Our programme of research into rotavirus gastroenteritis in Malawi dates back to 1997 through the award of a Wellcome Trust Training Fellowship to Nigel Cunliffe.  Our early studies detailed the epidemiological features of rotavirus infection in Malawian children.

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    Key findings

    Some of our key findings include early age of infection and the characterization of novel Serotype G8 rotavirus strains. Subsequently a Phase III placebo controlled clinical trial of the human rotavirus vaccine Rotarix™ was conducted in partnership with the University of Malawi College of Medicine, PATH and GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals. This was the first study of modern rotavirus vaccines in Africa and demonstrated that vaccination could reduce the burden of severe rotavirus gastroenteritis by 50% and led to a global recommendation of rotavirus vaccination use by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

    Our current studies, funded through a Wellcome Trust Programme Grant, extend this work by examining effectiveness of rotavirus vaccination when administered through the Childhood EPI Programme in Malawi. This work represents a collaboration between three Wellcome Trust funded sites in Malawi; The Malawi Ministry of Health, CDC Atlanta and Nagasaki University, Japan and University College London.

  • Rotavirus Strain Surveillance in Europe

    EuroRotaNet is a network of 19 laboratories in 17 European countries for monitoring rotavirus strains circulating in Europe.

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    EuroRotaNet has monitored strains of rotavirus before, during and after the introduction of rotavirus vaccines. 

    This project, which is co-funded by GSK and SPMSD is being led and coordinated by Miren Iturriza-Gómara.

  • The role of gene reassortment in rotavirus evolution and diversity

    Rotaviruses infect humans and animals, and when two different rotaviruses infect one person, the genes of the two viruses can mix to produce new viruses. Previous research has found unusual rotaviruses in humans, some which may have been transmitted from animals, and others that may have originated by mixing of genes between different human or human and animal rotaviruses. 

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    Rotavirus gene mixing does not occur at random for all rotavirus genes, our research aims to study in detail the relationships between the viral proteins in relation to the emergence and spread of rotavirus strains. We collaborate with researchers in Uganda and Cambridge, studying the role of different animal species in the emergence of unusual rotavirus strains in children in Uganda.

  • Norovirus evolution

    As norovirus is the leading cause of outbreaks of gastroenteritis, it is important that we can understand and characterise the emergence of novel strains of the virus in the population.

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    Some strains of norovirus spread rapidly and efficiently causing large epidemics. The success of these strains is likely to be the result of a combination of immune evasion by the virus and/or changes to the virus-host receptor binding properties. Our research aims to gain a better understanding of norovirus evolution and transmission and the interactions between norovirus and their hosts, particularly during outbreaks.

  • Development of a SELDI-TOF approach for the capture and detection of two major gastrointestinal pathogens.

    This project aims to develop a novel, fast, sensitive and broadly reactive detection method for the two most common pathogens associated with gastroenteritis; norovirus and Campylobacter.

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    Both pathogens have the capacity to specifically bind human blood group antigens (HBGAs). We aim to utilise this feature as a method to capture norovirus particles and Campylobacter cells from clinical samples using protein chips coupled to HBGAs that can act as magnets to bind the pathogens while releasing other biological matter from their surface. Bound protein arrays will be further analysed using Surface Enhanced Laser Desorption/Ionisation Time-Of-Flight Mass Spectrometry (SELDI-TOF MS).

    This project is funded by the HPA. Using the HPA’s reference collection of clinical and outbreak isolates of both pathogens, a database for the circulating strains within each pathogen group will be created. This database will allow the development of this novel approach as a tool for enteric pathogen detection which can be further developed for other pathogens and other diagnostic processes.

  • Novel virus discovery in defined cohorts

    This project aims to develop an integrated genomics database for pathogen discovery.

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    Despite the developments in molecular diagnostic techniques, a huge diagnostic gap remains for many diseases, including gastroenteritis. This project, is funded by the HPA and is a collaboration with researchers in the Universities of Cambridge and Aberystwyth.

    The project aims to analyse clinical samples from outbreaks of gastroenteritis of unknown aetiology using second generation sequencing in order to identify possible new or variant viruses that cannot be detected using the methods currently available in diagnostic virology.