A University of Liverpool-led consortium has received $1.5million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study a bacterium that causes serious disease and epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa.
Streptococcus pneumoniae serotype1 is one of the most prevalent strains in sub-Sahara Africa. The funding will enable scientists to analyse the bacterium to determine why it is associated with invasive pneumococcal disease, why it spreads so quickly and why it has significant epidemic potential in some areas of Africa.
Invasive pneumococcal disease causes life-threatening pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis and is a major cause of death and serious illness in Africa. There are more than 90 different serotypes of Streptococcus pneumoniae - the bacterium that causes pneumococcal disease - but only a small number are associated with invasive pneumococcal disease.
Researchers based in Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa and The Gambia will analyse 300 wide-ranging and geographically relevant strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae serotype 1 to provide a detailed study of its genetic traits. The data will contribute to the current pneumococcal vaccine development programme led by PATH in the USA. In the longer term, the information will feed into the development of a protein-based vaccine that will enhance or replace current Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccines (PCVs).
Vaccination provides the best form of protection against invasive pneumococcal disease. However, the vaccination programme that is being rolled out across Africa may not provide adequate protection against serotype 1. There are a number of PCVs currently available but none have shown a strong protective effect against serotype 1 and it is not known yet how the proposed PCVs which are due to be introduced to the programme will fare.
The project will also involve African researchers being trained to undertake the genomic-based research to enable local African researchers to process and analyse relevant data.
Dr Dean Everett, who is based in Malawi working as part of the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, said: "Streptococcus pneumoniae serotype 1 is one of the biggest causes of pneumococcal disease in sub-Sahara Africa and accounts for a quarter of infections in Malawi."
"Understanding the genetic traits that underpin serotype 1 and contribute towards its epidemic potential will help us to refine vaccine target discovery and guide the vaccine development process in order to provide better protection to those in sub-Saharan Africa where this serotype is most prevalent. This is an important first step in the process and importantly it will be driven by researchers in Africa."