UCL wins $200,000 grant for tuberculosis and HIV research
27 October 2008
UCL has received two $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The grants will help to fund research into tuberculosis and HIV, to be carried out by the UCL Centre for Infectious Diseases & International Health and the Division of Infection & Immunity within UCL Immunology.
In the first project, Professor Graham Rook will lead a team setting out to tackle the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, which is becoming resistant to many of the drugs used to treat the disease.
Professor Rook's key collaborators are Professor Thomas Rademacher, a UCL academic and chairman of nanoparticle manufacturer Midatech Ltd, Professor Colin Ratledge of the University of Hull and UCL's Professor Ali Zumla (UCL Medicine).
The project has the potential to be one of the first clinical uses of gold nanoparticle technology.
Professor Rook explained: "In order to survive, Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, or Mtb, has to acquire iron from its environment by secreting a molecule that picks up iron and transfers it back into the bacterium by carrying it through specialised pores in the bacterial cell wall.
"Our idea is to attach this iron-binding molecule to a gold nanoparticle via a flexible linker…a kind of "ball and chain"…that will follow the iron-binding molecule into the pore. The size of the particle will be engineered so that it blocks the pore which will then no longer be available to the bacterium for intake of iron or other nutrients.
"In addition to plugging the pore in the cell wall, the particles will also carry antibacterial drugs that will be released in the vicinity of the bacteria inside infected cells. The nanoparticles will bear molecules that cause specific uptake by the type of cell that becomes infected with Mtb, while preventing uptake by the liver where some of the drugs can be toxic. We will be using the iron-binding molecule of Mtb to target novel treatments to the tuberculosis bacterium."
Meanwhile, Professor Benjamin Chain (UCL Immunology) is conducting research that aims to develop an alternative strategy to develop a vaccine which can prevent HIV infection.
In contrast to the conventional vaccine approach of stimulating an antibody response against the virus, Professor Chain's team intends to stimulate a response against CCR5, a molecule used by the virus to enter the cells of infected individuals.
"Since CCR5 is a protein found naturally in the body, the immune system is reluctant to react against it - it is tolerant to it," said Professor Chain.
"In order to break though this tolerance, we will combine a small portion of the CCR5 molecule with part of the tetanus bacterium, which is known to be very efficient at stimulating an immune response. We believe the combination of the CCR5 and the tetanus will break tolerance and stimulate the production of antibodies against CCR5 which will then prevent HIV from entering cells and replicating."
The grants were among 104 awarded in the first funding round of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to help scientists around the world explore bold, new solutions for health challenges in developing countries.
They were provided to all levels of scientists in 22 countries and five continents.
"I congratulate each individual who took the initiative to share their idea with us to help fight the world's most serious diseases," said Dr Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program.
"The number of creative approaches we received exceeded our highest aspirations. Projects from this initial pool of grants have the potential to transform health in developing countries, and I will be rooting for their success."