Coronavirus (COVID-19) research priorities

As the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the world, researchers across the University of Bristol have united to collaborate on finding ways to overcome the disease.

We have extensive research capability and our expertise has been rapidly mobilised. It includes laboratory research; population-based studies; modelling and epidemiology; clinical trials, surveys and social science research.

Understanding the virus and creating a vaccine

The University's COVID19 Emergency Research Group (UNCOVER) are addressing the following areas as a priority:

  • Whether the virus is genetically stable in the lab and in the community.
  • How to create a synthetic virus that can easily be used for drug testing.
  • The relationships between symptoms, how the virus spreads and the development of immunity in people who get the infection.
  • Modelling the spread and timing of the epidemic in England and Wales.
  • The nature of protective immunity that would need to be induced by vaccines.
  • How the virus affects children and the unborn child using a real-time COVID-19 surveillance system.
  • How long the virus survives in airborne droplets and how that can be reduced.
  • The development and investigation of new test methods, including a possible rapid diagnostic urine test.
  • How to create and manufacture a safe and effective vaccine using cutting edge biochemical and cloud computing techniques.

A key example of the research is the work of Dr David Matthews and Dr Andrew Davidson, from the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, who have been working on human coronavirus since 2002.

At the beginning of the current coronavirus outbreak in December 2019, their laboratory was the only research facility at a UK university researching how the virus interacts with human cells.

They are working with Public Health England and the University of Liverpool to grow SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.

Their work to understand the pathogenesis of the virus – how it causes disease, and how it interacts with our bodies – is critical to the development of diagnostic tools, drugs and vaccines to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

A further example is work to create and manufacture a safe and effective vaccine using cutting edge biochemical and cloud computing techniques.

A team of biochemists, biologists and computer scientists behind the ground-breaking ADDomer vaccine platform - which has the potential to revolutionise the way vaccines are designed, produced and stored - is looking at whether their 'virus-like particle' (VLP) vaccine could combat the virus.

Monitoring and predicting the effects of the epidemic

With support from the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, epidemiologists from our renowned Children of the 90s cohort are establishing key data-linkage, symptom tracking and seroprevalence studies which will monitor the effects of the epidemic.

The research will ask 26,000 people to identify how many of the predominantly healthy, young participants experienced COVID-19 like symptoms in the past six months. This provides information about the existence of any 'hidden iceberg' of disease.

This is just one of many examples from our research community; our experts are also working on predictive modelling of the pandemic, healthcare use and contact patterns.

Working with governments and the NHS

Our research community is committed to working with governments, international agencies, funders and the NHS to effectively combat the COVID-19 crisis.

Bristol's recognised expertise in infectious diseases, public health and clinical trials make us well placed to contribute to the world’s knowledge and effective control of this epidemic. Our data science experts are contributing their expertise to the effort.

We are working in collaboration with partners in the NHS and in international health to provide our expertise.

For example, the National Child Mortality Database (NCMD) based in the Bristol Medical School is working with health professionals to ensure that they provide relevant and prompt information to NHS England and Public Health England on child deaths involving COVID-19 and its indirect effects. They are using a real-time surveillance system to identify trends and inform national processes in order to save lives.

Impact on society

Our researchers are working to provide insight into the far-reaching impact of the pandemic on individuals and society. This includes work on social distancing, policy, education, the economy, mental health and physical activity. These areas reflect our commitment to research that makes a difference to health and wellbeing for all members of society.

As just one of many examples, research is underway with people living with diabetes for whom social distancing measures impact on access to peer-support groups and for whom set-up of a digital platform provides one way to help.

Institutional expertise

Expertise is being drawn from across the University, led by:

The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute is supporting a wide range of research projects at the University of Bristol to help us better understand COVID-19 from different perspectives. The projects cover diagnostic research to increase the UK's testing capacity, new vaccine targets, understanding more about people who are asymptomatic, and much more. Many members of the UNCOVER research group have received funding from the Institute. Find out more about these projects and the ongoing funding call.

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