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The University of Southampton

New study to investigate growth of noroviruses

Published: 3 April 2009

A new study from the University of Southampton is examining why norovirus gastroenteritis – popularly referred to as ‘gastric flu’ – is confined to specific parts of the small intestine.

Noroviruses are recognised world-wide as the most important cause of epidemic nonbacterial gastroenteritis (stomach bugs) and pose a significant public health burden with an estimated 1 million cases per year in the UK. In the past, noroviruses have also been called ‘winter vomiting viruses’.

Professor Ian Clarke and Dr Paul Lambden, from the University’s School of Medicine, have been awarded a grant for £473,000 from the Wellcome Trust to investigate the molecular determinants that confine the growth of these viruses to specific cells of the small intestine.

They will also study the murine norovirus (MNV), which is closely related to human noroviruses, using their ‘reverse genetics’ system to help understand the replication and molecular biology of this and human noroviruses and, it is hoped, lead to ways of controlling them.

Professor Ian Clarke says: “The ‘reverse genetics’ system is a critical new tool which allows the systematic manipulation of virus genes to determine their function.

“Despite their widespread prevalence, and their identification 30 years ago, no human noroviruses have as yet been adapted to grow in the laboratory, thereby restricting knowledge of the transmission and immunobiology of this distinct and highly infectious group of viruses.”

Characteristically, noroviruses cause acute diarrhoea and vomiting with rapid secondary spread arising from person-to-person transmission. The disease is highly contagious and outbreaks involving large numbers of people occur regularly in settings such as cruise ships, hospitals, schools, hotels and nursing homes. It can be transmitted by contact; by consuming contaminated food or water; or by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.

In recognition of their promising results, Professor Clarke and Dr Lambden have also been awarded a prestigious Food Standards Agency postgraduate scholarship to develop rapid and simple detection protocols that could be easily used by the food and water industries.

Notes for editors

  • Research Grants:

    Wellcome Trust ‘Replication of Noroviruses: determinants of tropism’ 2009 – 2012 £473,000.

    Food Standards Agency scholarship ‘The development of novel molecular techniques to assess the risk produced by norovirus in shellfish’ 2009 - 2012

    The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending over £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.

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