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A collaboration between the University of Oxford and Thailand’s Mahidol University has been shortlisted for the prestigious 2017 Newton Prize for its project aiming to understand the early stages of scrub typhus in Thailand.

The Newton Prize is an annual £1 million fund awarded for the best research or innovation that supports the economic development and social welfare of developing countries. Oxford Professor Nick Day is in with the chance of winning up to £200,000 from the Prize to be used to advance or develop the work further.

The project team, headed by Dr Jeanne Salje and Professor Day from Oxford’s Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Nuffield Department of Medicine and Dr Somponnat Sampattavanich of Mahidol’s Siriraj Department of Pharmacology, has brought together expertise in bacterial cell biology and biochemistry, clinical aspects of scrub typhus and high throughput screening approaches to develop a robust and reproducible high throughput genome wide RNAi imaging screen.

The research has already had a direct impact on scrub typhus clinical work with new methods for bacterial propagation from clinical samples being adopted with improved results on isolation rates from infected patients. The team also focused on raising public awareness of scrub typhus as delayed diagnosis is strongly associated with morbidity and mortality.

The Newton Prize is part of the broader Newton Fund, which builds research and innovation partnerships with 18 partner countries to support their economic development and social welfare, and to develop their research and innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth. It has a total UK Government investment of £735 million up until 2021, and each partner country provides matched funding and resources for every programme, making it an equitable partnership.

More than 150 Newton funded projects, fellowships or other awards applied for the Newton Prize from the eligible countries for this year – India, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. There are 25 shortlisted applications in total and five Prizes of up to £200,000 will be awarded to each winner to be used to advance or develop existing Newton funded work. There will be two winners in India and one each in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Newton Prize winners will be announced at award ceremonies held in each of the partner countries:

  • India – 1 November
  • Vietnam – 16 November
  • Thailand – 22 November
  • Malaysia – 28 November

The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson will host a London event in early December to celebrate the Prize’s first year and announce the 2018 Newton Prize countries.

Professor Day is also Director of the Bangkok-based Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU). Established in 1979 as a research collaboration between Mahidol University, Oxford and Wellcome, MORU’s main office and labs are located within Mahidol’s Faculty of Tropical Medicine, with MORU Units, study sites and collaborations across Thailand, Asia and Africa.

The Newton Prize aims to incentivise researchers to participate in the Newton Fund as partners with the UK, and to work on the most important challenges facing Newton countries. The concept for the Newton Prize has been developed to demonstrate how UK partnerships with Newton countries are solving global challenges.

Further information is available on the Newton Fund website. Follow their Twitter feed for regular updates about the Newton Prize: @NewtonFund and #NewtonPrize.

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