Researchers at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) have received £200,000 funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC), matched with more than £100,000 of in-kind funding from MRC Units, to develop the Influenza Virus Toolkit, a reagent repository for influenza virus researchers. This national virology asset will be developed in partnership with the MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit at the University of Dundee (PPU), and the MRC Human Immunology Unit at the University of Oxford (HIU).
Influenza viruses represent a serious and ongoing threat to humans, as well as to animals such as poultry and horses, creating both healthcare and economic impacts. Human influenza is a respiratory infection, which in most years kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world and makes many more unwell, putting major pressures on healthcare services and economies. In addition to this, influenza viruses are unusually effective at creating new pandemics, some of which can be extremely severe.
As a result, there remains an ongoing need to study influenza viruses, and in response to this, researchers across three MRC Units have designed the Influenza Virus Toolkit, a national resource that will build research capacity for studying influenza viruses and increase preparedness for the next influenza pandemic.
The Influenza Virus Toolkit will be a reagent resource that provides for the long-term storage and low-cost redistribution of influenza virology reagents (specialist materials that researchers require to study how influenza viruses interact with their hosts). Influenza research has a large, active but dispersed research community. This means that, while many useful influenza reagents have been developed in labs across the UK and around the world, discovering and requesting these reagents can be complicated and time consuming. This slows down open science and research breakthroughs. The Influenza Virus Toolkit will address this in three ways:
- by creating a searchable archive for the long-term storage of useful influenza reagents (donated by influenza research groups across the UK and internationally)
- by using a cost-recovery model to cheaply redistribute those reagents to research groups across the world, and
- by generating and validating additional reagents for all four genera of influenza viruses.
Dr Ed Hutchinson, Influenza Virus Toolkit project lead from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, said: “Influenza is an ongoing challenge that is tackled by a dedicated and collaborative research community. This funding from the MRC will allow us all to share and preserve valuable reagents, and in doing so it will catalyse new research and strengthen research integrity. The Influenza Virus Toolkit will also be important when we face the next influenza pandemic. Our experience with COVID has shown us that at times of crisis it is important for new labs to establish research capabilities for a virus as quickly as possible – reagent sharing resources such as this one will help us to prepare for this threat.”
The resource builds on the recent success of the Coronavirus Toolkit, a similar reagent repository which was created during the COVID pandemic by a team of researchers at the CVR and PPU. The creation of the Influenza Virus Toolkit builds on the strengths of three MRC Units from across the UK. The CVR, PPU and HIU will provide expertise and resources in virology, antibody generation, and immunology, respectively, and the PPU and CVR have established frameworks for sharing non-infectious (PPU) and infectious (CVR) reagents through the MRC Reagents and Services framework and the CVR Reagent Repository.
Dr Paul Davies, project lead for the MRC PPU at the University of Dundee, said: “The collaborative efforts of PPU and CVR produced the first complete set of tools in our fight against Covid-19 and these have been used by researchers across the globe in the study of the virus. This new project promises to do the same for Influenza and accelerate the research into better understanding the disease and finding new ways to control it.”
Dr Graham Campbell, a programme manager at the Medical Research Council, said: “MRC’s units play important national roles in tackling some of our biggest health research challenges. This project is an excellent example of our units taking the lead in developing and making available crucial assets to the national and international research community in studies of human influenza, which has the potential to significantly aid efforts in future pandemic preparedness.”