Imperial College London: Jameel Fund accelerates research to protect the world from respiratory diseases

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Pioneering research projects at Imperial have received new funding to help tackle the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.

Imperial College London and Community Jameel have announced the next wave of projects to receive funding from The Jameel Fund for Infectious Disease Research and Innovation (“The Jameel Fund”) – which provides grants of up to $65,000 for short-term, high-impact projects that advance our ability to understand, prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious diseases.

“The Jameel Fund will provide the vital support needed for research scientists to help protect the world from respiratory viruses and the ongoing threat of COVID-19.”
Professor Ian Walmsley
Provost, Imperial College London
Following on from the success of the first round, which supported five projects focused on coronaviruses such as COVID-19, SARS and MERS, the second round of funding will additionally focus on other respiratory viruses and their pathogenesis (how disease develops) and transmission.

The Fund is supported by a grant from Community Jameel, an international organisation advancing science to help communities thrive in a rapidly changing world.

The Jameel Fund supports collaborative research projects with King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, with a view to strengthening research collaborations between Imperial and Saudi universities in this field.

Hassan Jameel, Vice Chairman of Community Jameel, said: “Community Jameel’s primary aim is to empower communities to thrive by advancing science. A core pillar of this is promoting partnerships across the Global South to drive scientific breakthroughs. The Jameel Fund is an embodiment of this mission and we hope, through promoting cross-institutional collaboration, to support research and innovations able to curtail the risks posed by infectious diseases globally.”

Professor Ian Walmsley, Provost of Imperial College London, said: “The Jameel Fund will provide the vital support needed for research scientists to help protect the world from respiratory viruses and the ongoing threat of COVID-19. The grants will rapidly accelerate our understanding of infectious diseases and how to prevent, diagnose and treat them. We are grateful to Community Jameel for their continued support towards our work in global health.”

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Project awards:
Six projects received support through the latest wave of the Jameel Fund.

COVID-19 test
Dr Roya Haghighat-Khah and Professor Andrea Crisanti, Department of Life Sciences – Functional genomics for prognosis on clinical nasopharyngeal swab samples

Dr Roya Haghighat-Khah and Professor Andrea Crisanti have won an award to deploy next generation RNA sequencing in a project that lays the groundwork to better understand the role of human genetic factors in COVID-19 disease severity. Led by Dr Haghighat-Khah, and in collaboration with Professor Graham Taylor (Department of Infectious Diseases) and Dr Nik Matthews (Imperial Genomics Facility), the team will design a sequencing protocol for analysing human tissue from swabs using a platform that has been successfully used before to tackle other infectious diseases, such as malaria. The research could lead to a combined COVID-19 test that diagnoses infection and identifies patients more at risk of developing severe symptoms.

Long COVID and the menstrual cycle
Professor Danny Altmann, Department of Immunology and Inflammation – Mechanisms of Long COVID variation over the menstrual cycle: does hormonal contraception ameliorate cyclical symptoms?

Professor Altmann, with Professors Viki Male and Rosemary Boyton, aim to determine if long COVID symptoms vary during the menstrual cycle and why they might change. The team will also explore whether this differs for individuals using combined hormonal contraception. Previous data suggests that long COVID symptoms are the most severe during the premenstrual and menstrual phase of the cycle, and the team will look to verify this by following a group of more than 400 people who suffer from long COVID. Another objective of the research is to understand whether and how immune dysfunction varies over the menstrual cycle in those with long COVID.

Long COVID and lung cells
Lung scan
Lung epithelium grown in vitro: KRT5 (cyan) represents basal cells, MUC5AC (yellow) represents mucus secreting cells and ACE2 (magenta) represents both the rest of the ciliated epithelium and the receptor for SARS-CoV-2.


Dr James Harker, National Heart & Lung Institute – Investigating the role and mechanism of respiratory epithelial dysfunction in long COVID

Infection from the SARS-CoV-2 virus can lead to long term lung damage and respiratory complications such as breathlessness and a persistent cough. Dr Harker will aim to better understand how the virus, SARS-CoV-2, develops into COVID-19 and in turn can result in long term changes to the respiratory epithelium – the cell lining in our airways. This research could help identify people more at risk of post-COVID-19 respiratory disease, the causes behind this, and could help improve future treatments.

Long term impact of COVID-19 on lungs
Dr Cecilia Johansson, National Heart & Lung Institute – Understanding immunopathology after SARS-CoV-2 infection using a mouse model

Many millions of people who have experienced COVID-19 are left with damaged lungs, fatigue and shortness of breath, among other symptoms, often described as ‘long COVID.’ This is expected to have a long-term impact on the respiratory health and overall life quality of a significant fraction of the population for years to come. Dr Johansson will aim to better understand the long-term impact of COVID-19 disease on the lungs by studying mice, including possible differences in long-term consequences with different variants of the virus. As well as providing understanding, this research could identify possible new treatments for long COVID.

COVID-19 and pregnancy
Dr Nishel Shah, Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction – Do pregnancy-related immune changes modify immunity post COVID-19 infection and vaccination?

In 2021, Dr Nishel Shah and team were awarded funding by Community Jameel to investigate whether long-term immunity following COVID-19 infection and vaccination is impacted when they take place during pregnancy. In collaboration with Dr Ahdab AlSaieedi of King Abdulaziz University, the latest round of funding will allow Dr Shah’s team to complete the project, which has so far produced preliminary findings that show that pregnant women who have had a COVID-19 infection can experience a delay in achieving peak levels of protective antibodies and an earlier decline of their presence in the immune system. Additionally, data from this study identified a number of important protective features of maternal immune cells that are unaffected by COVID-19 infection. Dr Shah’s team will also be investigating whether infection or vaccination provides immunity to emerging strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

COVID-19 and lung inflammation
A lung scan of a patient following COVID-19 infection

Dr Aran Singanayagam, Department of Infectious Disease – Investigation into the role of airway microbial dysbiosis as a driver of post-viral lung fibrosis

Long-term impact on the lungs is a well-recognised complication in patients who have had severe COVID-19, and Dr Singanayagam says the reasons behind persistent lung inflammation and scarring in some patients after recovery are poorly understood. His research will investigate the mechanisms driving this, with the hope of developing future approaches to target these pathways and prevent disease.

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