The UK has just launched a dedicated consortium, comprised of scientists, researchers and experts from leading institutes, to help tackle the monkeypox outbreak.
While monkeypox diagnoses have dropped across the UK in recent months, the country is looking to stay on top of the virus on a global scale with its new research hub.
Led by the Pirbright Institute and MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, the £2 million (nearly €2.3 million) project has been funded by the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council and the Medical Research Council, both part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
What will the monkeypox research hub do?
The research will be examining several important aspects of the disease; firstly, it will look at the virus itself, its characterisation, how it evolves and the human immune response.
In terms of combatting and controlling the virus, the researchers are also hoping to produce tests similar to the lateral flow tests we all know and love from the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This will help people to quickly and proactively identify the virus before contacting medical professionals for treatment.
“The implications of the current monkeypox outbreak are huge,” said Professor Bryan Charleston, co-lead from The Pirbright Institute, said.
“As well as tackling the current outbreak, we also need to be fully prepared for next outbreak, because worldwide there’s a huge reservoir of infection. One of the key ways we can do this is to develop rapid tests, which are very important to help clinicians on the front line to manage the disease.”
Perhaps the most important part of this project will be finding a drug that effectively combats monkeypox in human cells.
It will also vet the effectiveness of the smallpox vaccination against the disease.
“This new national consortium will study the unprecedented monkeypox outbreak to better understand how to tackle it,” adds Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of BBSRC.
“This will feed rapidly into global public health strategies, developing new diagnostic tests and identifying potential therapies.”
Ultimately, the findings will inform the response to the monkeypox virus on an international scale.
Do we need to be worried about monkeypox?
Right now, monkeypox numbers are lower than they have been for a while.
Back in early summer 2022, there was a sharp increase in infections but in September, just 3,500 cases were reported across the UK.
For most people, symptoms will clear up on their own in a matter of weeks. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) notes that new-born babies, children and people with underlying immune deficiencies may be at higher risk of more serious symptoms.
Monkeypox is spread by close physical interaction – including sex – with an infected person.
If you think you’ve been exposed to the virus and are displaying symptoms, you are advised to contact your doctor.