National Heart & Lung Institute (NHLI)

Respiratory Infections

Professor Ajit Lalvani, Head of Section

Administrator - Dan Solanki
Laboratory Manager - Seema Vekaria                                                                                                          Assistant Lab Manager - Rebecca Pearson

The Respiratory Infections Section, based at the St Mary's campus of the National Heart and Lung Institute, is composed of the following research groups:

Respiratory Infections: General Background

Respiratory infections (excluding TB) account for more than 6% of the global burden of human disease, causing more morbidity and mortality than all cancers. Poverty is associated with a more than 20-fold increase in the relative burden of lung infections, which disproportionately affect the young and old. In the USA, more is spent on smallpox research (US$324m in 2004) than on lung infections (US$287m); lung infections receive only one tenth of the funding provided for HIV/AIDS, which causes a similar disease burden (

RSV SlidesMore infections are spread via the respiratory tract than by any other route.  Respiratory pathogens are responsible for a huge worldwide disease burden; they mutate fast, cross species barriers, threaten patients with pre-existing lung diseases, evade antimicrobial treatments and respond rapidly to demographic and economic change.  Some (e.g. tuberculosis) are on the rise, while others (e.g. SARS and ‘avian’ influenza) are emerging threats to health and prosperity.There is an urgent need for new vaccines and antimicrobial drugs, and for agents that beneficially modify host immune responses.  We need evidence-based approaches to antimicrobial prescribing and to identify situations where combinations of drugs are required.  Appropriate, rational antimicrobial therapies are needed for patients with mild infections.

Key research areas include the early ‘innate’ response to microbial invasion, the influence of these responses on T and B cell immunity, the role of over-exuberant immunity in causing disease and studies of immune evasion, re-infection and persistence.  Other important topics include the effects of genetic variation, infection history, co-infections, immune immaturity and senescence.  We also need a better understanding of the role of infections in chronic inflammatory diseases.

Respiratory Infections Section

The Department of Respiratory Medicine or the Respiratory Infections Section is one of several groups within the Respiratory Sciences Division of the National Heart and Lung Institute. Common viral infections (e.g. rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus) have an important role in asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and childhood lung disease.

PipetteThe Respiratory Infection Section aims to develop novel treatment strategies using techniques of molecular virology and cellular immunology, in vivo and in vitro, to study the mechanisms by which viruses cause disease.

Based in the Medical School Building at St Mary’s campus, the Group comprises more than forty-five members, including two Professors, post doctoral scientists, Clinical Research Fellows, graduate students, and technicians. The group, which benefits from newly redeveloped premises, is currently expanding and there are frequent visiting scientists and students.

In addition to HEFCE funding, Programme grants have been awarded by the Wellcome Trust and the British Lung Foundation, and substantial funding comes from the MRC, Asthma UK and Industry. In June 2008, the Centre for Respiratory Infection (led by the Director, Professor Peter Openshaw) was launched. The Centre is being funded by a Wellcome Trust grant of £3.39m. The Section is also actively involved with the MRC & Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma.

Infections Section: Strategy 

a) Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections are an important cause of disease, particularly early in life.

b) Tuberculosis is a rising problem in the UK and globally, for which new diagnostics, biomarkers and treatments are urgently required. 

c) The role of known and only partially characterised bacteria in respiratory disease is a relatively under-researched but potentially important theme, on which more work is needed.

d) Emerging infections (SARS, avian flu) are important threats to human health


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