Umeå University to lead prestigious EU-funded Zika research initiative

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Credit: Hans Karlsson and Mattias Pettersson, Umeå University

Umeå University in Sweden will host and coordinate the Zika Preparedness Latin American Network (ZikaPLAN), an unprecedented international consortium for Zika research. This EU-funded Horizon2020 project involves 25 institutions in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia – which, over a four-year period, will focus on addressing urgent research gaps on Zika.

The main objective with ZikaPLAN is for the Zika outbreak response effort to grow into a sustainable Latin-American network for emerging infectious diseases research preparedness.

"We are greatly honoured that the EU is giving us the responsibility to lead this important global network of researchers around the world, but particularly in Latin America. This is part of a collective response to Zika today, and other emerging infectious diseases in the long term," says Annelies Wilder-Smith, a leading infectious disease researcher who is Professor at Umeå University and Principal Investigator of ZikaPLAN.

Last week, the European Commission's Directorate General of Research and Innovation selected the ZikaPLAN project as the only one to be funded despite intense competition. The approved research grant, among Umeå University's largest EU-funded projects, includes in total around EUR 12.5 million, of which about EUR 1.6 million will go to coordination and research at the hosting institution. ZikaPLAN will be coordinated by the Umeå University Epidemiology and Global Health Unit and its Centre for Global Health Research.

"We also believe that Umeå University's successful management of the recently concluded EU-funded FP7 project DengueTools played an important role in the Commission's positive decision for ZikaPLAN," says Raman Preet, Project Manager of DengueTools and ZikaPLAN. "After the results were notified, we heard the message 'I hope you will manage the grant as well as you have done with DengueTools'".

Overall, the ZikaPLAN initiative combines the strengths of 25 research partners in Latin America, North America, Africa, Asia, and various academic centres in Europe and their collaborators around two related purposes:

  • Addressing Zika:
    The project will address the current knowledge gaps in Zika as requested by the EU: association with congenital syndromes and neurological complications, clinical spectrum of disease, determinants of severe disease, pathogenesis and in particular neuropathogenesis, non-vector and vector transmission, diagnostics innovation and evaluation, burden of disease and risk factors for geographic spread; birth defect surveillance, social science for communication strategies with affected communities, novel personal preventive measures, and modelling on vector control and vaccine strategies for evidence-informed policies.
  • Preparing for beyond Zika:
    Whilst addressing Zika, the project will position the various activities and results as a springboard towards building a sustainable Latin-American network capable of rapidly launching concerted, large-scale research responses to EID outbreaks of significant (potential) impact to the region. The goal is to leverage the Zika response towards building a long-term EID response capacity in the region beyond the four-year project period.

Global health and virology researchers at Umeå University are part of the project. ZikaPLAN will be scientifically coordinated by Professor Annelies Wilder Smith, an international expert in infectious and vaccine preventable diseases. Associate Professor John Kinsman will work with social science for communication strategies with affected communities. Associate Professor Joacim Rocklöv will focus on modelling of vector control. Professor of virology Niklas Arnberg will focus on neuropathogenesis.

"We are delighted to see the European Commission's confidence in Umeå University as a world-leading centre in global health, entrusting us to lead this major international initiative against the current Zika epidemic. We will do our best through this research to minimise the future consequences of the Zika virus around the world," says Professor Peter Byass, Director of the Centre for Global Health Research.

Research partner institutions in the ZikaPLAN initiative include:

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (UK), University of Glasgow (UK), University of Oxford (UK), Queen Mary University of London (UK), University of Ulster (UK), Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (BE), Erasmus Universitair Medisch Centrum Rotterdam (NL), Institut Pasteur (FR), Fundacion Universidad del Norte (CO), Universidad del Valle (CO), Foundation Merieux (FR), University of Liverpool (UK), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (US), La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (US), Prins Leopold Instituut voor Tropische Geneeskunde (BE), Universidade de Sao Paulo (BR), Instituto Butantan (BR), Associacao Technica-Cientifica Estudo Collaborativo Latino Americano de Malformacoes Congenitas (BR), Fundacao Oswaldo Cruz (BR), Instituto de Medicina Tropical Pedro Kouri (CU), Institut Pasteur de Dakar (SN), Schweizerisches Tropen- und Public Health Institut (CH), International Vaccine Institute (KR), and Fundacao Universidade de Pernambuco (BR).


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