Wellcome to this new blog all about tropical diseases and health. I have deliberately misspelt “welcome” to highlight the exciting news that the Wellcome Trust has appointed a Professor of Tropical Medicine and Global Health as their new director; Jeremy Farrar.
Tropical Disease specialist named as new Wellcome Trust Director
The Wellcome trust is a charitable powerhouse when it comes to funding medical research with an annual spend of around £650m devoted to seeking advancements in medicine. Medicine is an extremely multi-disciplinary profession and we only need to read the daily headlines to be reminded of the challenges doctors and medical scientists face – Alzheimer’s, Lung Cancer, Addiction, Cystic Fibrosis, Trauma etc. etc. – you name it! However, as a Masters student in Medical Microbiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with a big interest in tropical viruses such as Dengue, HIV and emerging bat viruses, in addition to other kinds of infection such as Tuberculosis (bacterial) and Chagas disease (parasitic), I feel very excited that a new era for the Wellcome Trust will be under the leadership of a much-respected Tropical Disease expert.
It is perhaps a reflection of the growing problems facing tropical medicine today; there is much still to be done! How do we tackle total-drug-resistant TB? Can we stop the next big epidemic like SARS or HIV before it happens? Are we anywhere near close to a successful vaccine for Malaria, a disease which kills hundreds of thousands of people per year?
Amazingly, Professor Farrar was director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam, where I will be going this summer to conduct my summer research project on a specific type of bat virus (more on that later).
My self-imposed job is to write about what I find in my investigations and experiences on tropical disease and inform you all about it. I’m a rookie for sure, but learning my trade step-by-step…so bare with me…but DO comment and ask questions either on here or through my twitter account (@philandtropical).
I’m Alex, from Vietnam. I just read through some of your notes about your summer research during this summer in my hometown. I am glad that you decide to choose Vietnam for tropical study. Based on what you introduced about yourself, and research interest, I wonder why you study about bat virus instead of mosquitoes. and why would it be in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam??? I have lived in ho chi minh city for more than 20 years, so I believe bats usually don’t accommodate in this area frequently. Otherwise, your research sites locate in some rural areas near Sai Gon river. But, I hope you will enjoy the trip and the weather here .
Btw, I like your writing style (: I am studying biology in US now.
Thank you for the compliment! I’m just wondering, did you read my other blog which the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine hosts, to find out I’ll be in HCMC? I’m running the two blogs at the moment with similar info.
Anyway, I’m very excited to be going to Vietnam. The reason why I will be in HCMC is because this is where the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit is based (OUCRU: http://www.oucru.org/) which is embedded in the Hospital for Tropical Diseases. At OUCRU there is much ongoing research into various aspects of tropical disease, ranging from identifying drug resistance in malaria parasites to understand the how zoonoses (animal to human infection cross-over) occur. I’ll be joining the zoonoses research group there. And yes, while bats don’t roost in the extremely urban area of Ho Chi Minh City…the research team have been visiting various locations throughout Vietnam, including Dong Thap, to catch bats (without harm) and collect blood and faecal samples. It is these samples I will be analysing to understand the genetic diversity of coronaviruses throughout different Vietnamese ecozones.
Studying coronaviruses is quite timely, given the recent outbreak of a novel kind, originating from Saudi Arabia, which has killed 18 people so far.
Bats are also an incredible host for a wide range of viruses. It is believed that ebola-virus originated in bats as well as the 2009 H1N1 “Swine Flu”. As the human population expands and our habitats increasingly overlap with that of bats – it increases the chances of a zoonotic infection, which could have severe consequences.
So this should be a very interesting 3 month project!
Thank you for your detailed answer! I didn’t know about the second blog that you mentioned above; in fact, I found out your information on the Brandeis magazine. While I was searching about zoonotic diseases caused by West Nile virus and Plasmodium falciparum parasite for my homework paper, I figured out that you are planning to do research on tropical disease in my hometown. Please sorry for my curiosity, but I think it is very cool that you decide to come to Vietnam.
Honestly, I was a bit ambivalent when hearing this news. Here we have a well-funded research institute called Institute of Tropical Biology, but the number of researches about these epidemics every year are extremely shortfall: young scientists are not encouraged in searching, and we reply mostly on vaccines and medicines from outsides without estimating unexpected reaction for patients. Even here, we discuss a lot about the fight against malaria in Africa and South America.
I see what you and your group are going to do there. Ho Chi Minh City is not a good place to catch bats, though we have some in pagodas or temples, but they are local people’s property, and the number also is inadequate to get samples. I know Dong Thap, but unless you will not directly go there, I hope you do know during summer these places will experience outbreak of malaria and mosquitoes population, which is a major disease hazard for travelers to warm climates.
Last but not least, I thought you study about malaria, instead of conoraviruses. I don’t know much about this organism. Bats, birds, and rodents are likely potential hosts and prime vectors for parasites and virus, as they are mobile and able to spread the thread in large number of people. However, as far as I understand, although SARS is highly contagious, the SARS mortality rate is ONLY from 11% to 15% (http://www.cnn.com/2003/HEALTH/05/08/sars/), would it be fatal pandemic?
I am on final exams, so I don’t have much to check emails. thanks again. Please keep writing and updating your blog as I hope to see your progress. good luk 🙂