Research into COVID-19 in South Asian communities in UK and India given UKRI funding

King’s College London

Two research projects into the impact of COVID-19 in South Asian communities has been given funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Ministry of Science and Technology,

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The partnerships from King’s is led by Professor Adrian Hayday from the Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine, and Dr Stephen Challacombe from the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral and Craniofacial Sciences, along with two other projects from Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, are worth £5 million.

The projects aim to provide a deeper understanding in COVID-19 severity in South Asian populations located in India and the UK. The projects will be funded in partnership between DBT and UKRI’s Fund for International Collaboration and have the potential to deliver public health impacts in mitigating the severity of the COVID-19 in both countries.

A project led by Professor Adrian Hayday from the School of Immunology & Microbial Sciences, with Dr. Annapurna Vyakarnam, Indian Institute of Science, will investigate why COVID-19 affects South Asians in different countries in different ways. The project, titled ‘Variation in innate immune activation and cardiovascular disease risk as drivers of COVID-19 outcome in South Asians in UK and India’, will support the rapid identification of information that may allow development of new prevention steps, more targeted monitoring, and potentially new treatments to improve the outcome of COVID-19 in both India and the UK.

It’s an extraordinary opportunity to learn how the immune systems of South Asians are confronting COVID-19 in India compared to how South Asians fared in London last year. It’s basic science that has ceaselessly brought progress throughout this tragic pandemic, and we hope that this study can continue in that vein.– Professor Adrian Hayday, from The School of Immunology & Microbial Sciences

The proposal put forward by Dr Stephen Challacombe from the Centre of Host-Microbiome Interactions, with Dr. Priya Kannian from The Voluntary Health Services Hospital, India, is based on the hypothesis that mucosal immunity and the microbiome, as reflected in the oral cavity, plays a critical role in susceptibility to, and severity of COVID-19. The title of the project is: ‘Role of the oral microbiome & mucosal immunity in COVID-19 disease: diagnostic/prognostic utility in South Asian populations’.

There is a confirmed disparity in the susceptibility to COVID in different ethnicities. Increasing evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 actively infects the mouth. Accordingly, whether it enters the circulation, causing more severe disease, may be related to oral health. The oral microbiome interacts closely with us in health and disease. It is connected with lung disease, able to both protect and damage and varies considerably with ethnicity. This study proposes that immunity at mucosal sites along with the oral microbiome plays a critical role in COVID-19 susceptibility and severity, and ethnic-specific differences in both these factors explains mortality variations between similar populations in the UK and India.– Dr Stephen Challacombe from the Centre of Host-Microbiome Interactions

UKRI International Champion, Professor Christopher Smith said: “The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the vital role of international science and innovation partnerships in collecting information, sharing knowledge and experiences and developing rapid solutions to tackle worldwide problems. These four new joint collaborative research projects build on the strong research and innovation links between the UK and India, bringing together world-leading research teams who are focused on mitigating the severity of COVID-19 in South Asian populations in the UK and India. “

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