4 April 2016 12:53

Lancaster University is to receive over £100,000 to help tackle the Zika virus which may cause microcephaly in unborn babies.

The Government and the Wellcome Trust have made a total of £4M in extra funds available to UK scientists to conduct rapid research and lead the way in tackling this global threat.

Professor Steven Sinkins of the Faculty of Health and Medicine is to receive the funding for his research on the mosquito that spreads the Zika infection.

His research investigates the bacteria Wolbachia in the hope that it can be used to block the transmission of Zika by Aedes mosquitoes.

It has already been demonstrated that infection with Wolbachia can block the transmission of dengue (which is related to Zika) and chikungunya viruses, and Wolbachia is already being deployed for dengue control in several countries.

Professor Sinkins believes Wolbachia can also provide a 'very promising way to bring Zika under control, and this rapid response funding will greatly help us to quickly assess its potential'.

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.”

Since its outbreak in Brazil in 2015, the Zika virus has continued to spread, primarily across the Americas. And, while it is unlikely to be a serious public health problem in the UK, as it is typically spread by tropical mosquitos, UK scientists have the skills and expertise needed to help disrupt the spread of this devastating disease.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said:  “The speed at which Zika moved from being a relatively obscure tropical disease to a global health emergency has taken us all by surprise, and illustrates just how vulnerable the world is to emerging infections.”