From the very first case of SARS-COV-2, the international medical profession have been battling to combat & cure what is now commonly known as Covid19.
From the first signs of an epidemic of SARS-COV-2 emerging in a live market in Wuhan, China, to the global pandemic we are still gripped by today; scientists across the planet have worked tirelessly together to not only find a workable vaccine, but they have strengthened their resolve against this destructive disease.
In amidst the chaos & carnage the global pandemic has brought with it, teams of Scientists, Epidemiologists, Medical professionals, Modellers, Vaccine Architects, front line workers, Doctors, Nurses & so many more key players, are continuing to combat this deadly disease.
For this year’s International Women’s Day blog & in recognition of British Science Week, Dolphin N2 would like to salute all of our Scientists who have & are finding workable medicines to combat the Covid 19 pandemic & in particular we would like to recognise the incredible body of work these outstanding Scientific pioneers have & are undertaking. This year although we acknowledge all of our Scientists incredible achievements, we will feature three of our leading British Scientists who have & are continuing to make incredible advances in the fight against Covid19.
Professor Sarah Gilbert – Saïd Professorship of Vaccinology, Jenner Institute & Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine
Professor Sarah Gilbert has been making and testing vaccines designed to induce T cell responses for over ten years, chiefly using antigens from malaria and influenza. (1)
Having completed her doctorate, Professor Gilbert got a job with a brewing research centre, looking at how to manipulate brewing yeast, before moving on to work in human health. Professor Gilbert had never meant to be a vaccine specialist. Yet by the mid-1990s, she was in an academic job at the University of Oxford, looking at the genetics of malaria. And that led to work on malaria vaccines. (2)
Seven months ago, Professor Sarah Gilbert & her team at Oxford University were tasked with developing a vaccine for Covid19. With there never having been a human vaccine developed against any member of the coronavirus family, Professor Gilbert knew this would be a considerable challenge
As Professor Gilbert rose through the ranks at Oxford University, she set up her own research group in a bid to create a universal flu vaccine.
In 2014, Professor Gilbert led the first trial of an Ebola vaccine & when the Mers – Middle East respiratory syndrome – virus struck, she travelled to Saudi Arabia to try to develop a vaccine for this form of coronavirus. The second trial of that vaccine was just beginning when, in early 2020, Covid-19 emerged in China & Professor Gilbert realised she might be able to use the same approach. (2)
It took a few weeks to create a vaccine which worked against Covid in the lab. Then the first batch went into manufacture by early April & the rigorous testing regime expanded.
As we came into 2021, the now commonly known Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine has been a considerable part of the UK vaccine roll out & has been approved & recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO)
In recognition of the work Professor Gilbert has undertaken, she has been awarded the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce’ (RSA) Albert Medal. The RSA Albert Medal is awarded annually to recognise the creativity & innovation of individuals & organisations working to resolve the challenges of our time. Professor Gilbert receives the 2021 honour for her services to collaborative innovation for the global common good. (3)
Professor Wendy Barclay – Action Medical Research Chair in Virology, Department of Infectious Disease
Professor Barclay pioneers work into how respiratory viruses like influenza spread & has spear-headed efforts to apply this knowledge to COVID-19.
“We have known since the outbreak of SARS in the early 2000s that many coronaviruses exist in the world in bats. The virus takes its name from the shape of the spikes that help it latch on to cells — under a microscope it looks as though it is wearing a crown. (4)
“It does not cause a huge amount of disease in the bats & many different strains have been identified. Most likely this new one, now named COVID-19, is a recombinant (merger) of two bat viruses. But it is not clear whether it came directly from bats to humans or whether there was an intermediate host.” (4)
Dr Anna Blakney – Post-doctoral research fellow based at the Section of Mucosal Infection and Immunity, Department of Infectious Diseases.
Dr Anna Blakney is part of Professor Robin Shattock’s group who developed the prototype vaccine for COVID-19 in early 2020. The team took a record 14 days to get from the genetic sequencing of the virus to generating the trial vaccine in the lab.
“I work on the development of self-amplifying RNA vaccines for the prevention of infectious diseases, specifically engineering both the RNA – the virus’s genetic code – and the delivery platform to improve the immune response. While this platform can be used for a wide array of pathogens it’s particularly useful for making vaccines in an outbreak because it’s relatively fast and inexpensive to produce.” Dr Blakney (4)
“This outbreak has brought the importance of epidemiology & vaccine research to the fore & this will not be the last time we are faced with this type of crises.
More preparation and investment are needed in these areas but I’m incredibly excited to be working in a field which can have such a profound impact on the lives of so many & the health of our communities.” Dr Blakney (4)
Written & cited by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2