Touching Lives - October 2010
The impact of investing over £1m in meningitis research
Meningitis can be a life-threatening illness and babies and children are particularly at risk. Children who survive meningitis may face long-term problems, such as vision and hearing troubles, and learning difficulties.
But research, funded by Action Medical Research, has found out more about this serious condition. Projects have looked at improving diagnosis, the immune response in children, infection in pregnant women and their babies, vaccine development and long-term follow up of affected children. The studies, run by some of the most established researchers in the field, have progressed understanding of the prevention and management of meningitis and its impact on babies and children.
The charity also funded the Action Medical Research Chair in Paediatrics at the University of Oxford, held for 25 years by Professor Richard Moxon (now held by Professor Georg Holländer). During Professor Moxon’s tenure, his group helped establish a vaccine for meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). The Hib vaccine is now a routine immunisation in the UK.
Their follow-on research helped indicate the need for a booster dose, now also routine. Before the vaccine introduction in 1992, Hib infection was the commonest cause of bacterial meningitis in children. The immunisation and booster have dramatically reduced the spread of infection and rate of childhood death. Each year, England and Wales saw approximately 800 cases, with around 30 deaths and about 80 children left with permanent brain damage or deafness. The vaccine dramatically reduced this, with cases in under-fives falling by 98 per cent.
Two Research Training Fellowship grants have been awarded to meningitis researchers. Professor Andrew Pollard, recipient of a fellowship in 1995, is now Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group established through Professor Moxon’s work. He supervised Dr Manish Sadarangani, who received his award in 2007 to investigate the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis group B, for which there is no vaccine. Meningitis still poses a serious threat, but in the last 20 years, new vaccines and improved treatments have made a big impact in reducing illness and deaths in the UK.
Action Medical Research is supporting more research into meningitis. See details of our latest project - [Leading researchers develop novel vaccine](http://www.action.org.uk/touching_lives/2010/10/novel_vaccine_research).