Charity celebrates investment of over £1million into meningitis research as part of Meningitis Awareness Week
Children’s health charity Action Medical Research is celebrating investing more than £1million in pioneering medical research into meningitis which has contributed to key breakthroughs over the past 30 years, to mark Meningitis Awareness Week starting on Monday (September 20 – 26).
With the focus of the week on raising awareness among students and teenagers, one of Action’s meningitis researchers reflects on the impact meningitis had on his medical student days:
Dr Manish Sadarangani, from the University of Oxford, said: “Students are one of the most vulnerable groups. There were at least 2-3 students who died each year while I was at university. It causes intense sadness at losing someone so young and intense fear across the whole campus. It had a huge impact on me and gave me a big push towards infectious diseases as an area of interest to me.”
Dr Sadarangani has just completed a three-year Research Training Fellowship (RTF), funded by Action Medical Research, studying meningitis at the University of Oxford. He has been working as a member of the Oxford Vaccine Group - the largest academic group undertaking research in children’s vaccines in Europe.
He said: “I have always been interested in infectious diseases – it’s a battle between two species – us and the ever-changing bugs. On the first day of my paediatric medical training, we were told how to recognise the meningococcal rash. From that day I was thinking about how we could get rid of it.”
There are 1,500 – 2,500 cases of Meningococcal disease annually in the UK – many are children. One in ten die and many survivors suffer severe problems. There are various types of meningococcal bacteria – A, C, W and Y – and vaccines are available. There is no vaccine that protects against all Meningococcal group B (MenB).
Dr Sadarangani explained: “The trouble is within MenB there are many different strains. One of the factors that is often shared between different strains is a protein called Opa. We have been testing and analysing Opa to see if we can use it to develop a vaccine that will protect against most of the strains of MenB.”
Dr Sadarangani, who worked in accident and emergency as a trainee doctor, said: “I remember a two-year-old who came in with cold symptoms and a slight fever. The parents were told the child probably had a cold and not to worry. The next day the same child came back in, completely covered with a rash, and died a few hours later. Unfortunately the symptoms of meningitis can be similar to those of other conditions and sometimes, no matter what happens, you can’t save them. That’s why I believe so passionately in preventing infections through vaccination.”
At the time of writing Dr Sadarangani is still analysing all of the data gathered but is confident that the work on Opa takes them one step closer to identifying a vaccine. Following his successful research programme, he has now been offered and taken up a post as Clinical Lecturer at the University of Oxford.
Dr Sadarangani’s work was supervised by Professor Andrew Pollard, who, in 1995, was himself given an RTF award from Action Medical Research, for work into meningitis. He has gone onto become Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at the University of Oxford, and is also the Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group.
While celebrating its success in funding some of the top research into meningitis in the country, Action Medical Research is still continuing to invest in leading research into the condition:
- Meningitis, septicaemia and pneumonia: developing a new vaccine
Researchers in Liverpool and Glasgow are developing a new vaccine against the pneumococcus that could be given to children in a nasal spray.
- Pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis – when harmless bacteria become deadly
Researchers in Leicester and Warwick are also looking at the pneumococcus bacterium. Many healthy people carry pneumococcal bacteria in their nose and throat without any ill effects, so they want to know why this normally harmless bacterium sometimes becomes deadly.
Yolande Harley, Deputy Director of Research, for Action Medical Research, said: “In 2010 meningitis still poses a serious threat. In the last 20 years however, new vaccines and improvements in treatment have made a big impact in reducing illness and mortality in the UK. Action Medical Research hopes the contribution we made to this will become part of a larger legacy that will grow from our ongoing commitment to improve the health of babies and children.”
Notes to editors:
30-year history of meningitis research
The charity funded a Chair in Paediatrics position at the University of Oxford, which was held from 1984, for 25 years, by Professor Richard Moxon. He established a research group which helped to develop a vaccine for meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). This became a routine childhood immunisation in the UK from 1992. Before the vaccine, Hib was the commonest cause of bacterial meningitis in children . Each year England and Wales had around 800 cases, with around 30 deaths and about 80 children left with brain damage or deafness . The vaccine dramatically reduced this with cases in under-fives falling by 98 per cent.
In conjunction with Professor Moxon and his team’s Hib research, the Oxford Vaccine Group (OVG) was formed. They have more recently made major contributions to the implementation of meningococcal and pneumococcal vaccines in the UK. Professor Moxon said that if there had not been a Chair to provide the required leadership, it is likely that the research would not have been done and the OVG would not have been set up. Action Medical Research has funded a range of projects into meningitis over the years and more information on those projects can be found in the research section of our web site at: www.action.org.uk
For further information please contact:
Claudine Weeks, Communications Manager
Tel: 01403 327478
Action Medical Research is the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children. We know that medical research can save and change children’s lives. For nearly 60 years we have been instrumental in significant medical breakthroughs, including the development of the UK polio vaccine and ultrasound scanning in pregnancy. Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We want to make a difference in:
• tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
• helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
• targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.