The grant from 3M forms part of a $5 million initiative to support research programmes with a focus on treatments and vaccine development for Covid-19 at leading educational establishments around the world.
The Imperial funding was awarded following a competitive international process, reflecting the high esteem in which the university’s infectious disease research programmes are held.
Following rigorous internal selection by the College, funding has been allocated to two projects.
The first – led by Dr Jesus Rodriguez Manzano, a lecturer in antimicrobial resistance and infectious diseases – is developing an RNA Ribonucleic Acid extraction and detection rapid screening tool for low and middle-income countries.
Dr Margarita Dominguez-Villar, a senior lecturer in immunology, is leading the second project conducting research into the contribution of inflammation to Covid-19 disease severity.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented need for rapid diagnostic screening and a global shortage of otherwise commonplace laboratory supplies, such as RNA extraction kits. This need is exacerbated in low-and middle-income countries, where even before the pandemic access to both manual and automated extraction equipment was severely limited.
Dr Rodriguez Manzano’s team is developing a power-free, low-cost, ultra-fast less than five minutes universal sample preparation method enabling Covid-19 RNA extraction and detection. Based on magnetic beads and using a customised 3D-printed magnetic lid, the method is electricity free and will enable point-of-care testing outside of a laboratory environment.
The project aims to deliver a step-change in testing over the next six months by deploying this technology in the NHS and other clinical/non-clinical environments where timely and accurate diagnosis is vital.
Research by Dr Dominguez-Villar is focusing on the contribution of inflammation to Covid-19 disease severity. The factors that trigger severe illness in individuals infected with SARS-CoV-2 Covid-19 are not completely understood, but an excessive inflammatory response is thought to be a major cause of disease severity and death.
The immunological changes that take place during the transition from moderate to severe Covid-19 are poorly understood and there are currently no drugs to treat these patients to prevent disease aggravation.
Using blood samples from hospitalised Covid-19 patients, Dr Dominguez-Villar will dissect the immunological mechanisms that take place during the progression to severe disease and compare them to those that occur in patients who do not suffer disease aggravation.
This knowledge will be used to identify immunological signatures that can be targeted to prevent worsening of the disease. Further studies will look at the efficacy of two drugs that may target inflammation by inhibiting major signalling pathways essential for immune cell response.
“We are incredibly grateful for 3M's generous gift, which has allowed two projects that will have real-world impact on testing and the prevention of disease progression to take place,” said Emily Pratt, Development Officer Medicine at Imperial College. “Without 3M's donation it is unlikely that this important research could have taken place.”
“Science is at the heart of 3M and we are committed to advancing the rapid study of this virus as part of our continued effort to combat the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Dr Chris Lessing, Medical Affairs leader at 3M. “It’s important that 3M holds true to its core values by supporting our communities and improving lives. We will be following the progress and outcomes of the Imperial College London research with interest.”
Photo credits: Dr Jesus Rodriguez Manzano © Jo Mieczkowski, Imperial College London/ Dr Margarita Dominguez Villar © Genevieve Timmins, Imperial College London