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2020 NIHR ACF PES UCL Platform Science and Bioinformatics 2



2020 NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship in Priority Research Themes

HEE Local Office: North Central and East London
Medical School: University College London
Research Theme: Platform Science and Bioinformatics
Specialty Options: Infectious Diseases

Plain English Summary

New viruses emerge every year and dangerous bacteria have become more and more resistant to anti-bacterial drugs. Moreover, our increasingly elderly population and modern medical treatments for cancer or autoimmune diseases have increased the number of people with weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to infection. Some of the most severe common infections affect the lung, causing pneumonia or life-threatening deteriorations in underlying lung diseases such as asthma and smoking related lung damage; these lung infections are often due to drug resistant viruses or bacteria, making them particularly dangerous. To keep pace with these continuous changes in lung infections, we need to train doctors in the necessary research skills to improve patient care and develop novel ways of diagnosing or treating lung infections. In particular, we need to train research doctors who are able to use the new very powerful ‘omics’ technologies. These technologies allow us to comprehensively evaluate the changes in the biology of bacteria and viruses by examining their genetic makeup, and simultaneously measuring the ways in which humans respond to the infection.

The ‘omics’ technologies generate enormous amounts of data that can make major improvements in our understanding of lung infections, but can only be interpreted by cooperation between computer scientists and biologists. This is called bioinformatics, and is a major research strength at UCL and an area where we have previously made major new discoveries. Our close links to clinical services across the UCLP academic health sciences network (North central and East London) combined with partnerships with Public Health England, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the Crick Institute provide us with the patient numbers combined with the world leading research networks necessary for successful research. UCL has made substantial investments in ‘omics’ technologies for Infection research, so we now have the machines and computers required to read the genetic codes of bacteria and viruses and measure the activity of human genes responding to infection. This is combined with increasing our bioinformatics capacity to analyse the data to discover biologically meaningful patterns through partnerships with computer scientists at UCL.

The post is suitable for academic clinical fellows who wish to undertake speciality training in infectious diseases or respiratory medicine. The post holder will be able to chose from a wide range of projects, focused on tuberculosis, viral infections of the lung including influenza, pneumonia, infections in people with pre-existing lung disease and those who have a weakened immune system. These projects aim to understand the effect of differences in human and microbial genetics on our susceptibility to disease, discover new ways to diagnose infections more accurately and to predict their outcome. In addition, they include projects that aim to identify antibiotic resistant infections more rapidly, identify outbreaks and predict the emergence of new infections so that they can be controlled more effectively, to develop new vaccines that protect us from infection and develop new treatments that improve immune responses for use alongside antibiotics.