Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Langhorne Laboratory


  The Laboratory of Jean Langhorne studies malaria, a disease which kills millions of children every year. We study the disease in humans, via a collaboration with the Wellcome and KEMRI-sponsored institute in Kilifi, Kenya. We also study the immune system in malaria infection in mice. Mice provide a model for many aspects of the disease which are not easily investigated in humans. Basic biology is vital to the fight against disease. Mill Hill, as an international centre of excellence for basic biology, is as important as clinic-based science, and Academia-based science. We hope that the government's emphasis on clinical science will not detract from study of the basic sciences which make that possible.

  Our work on the immunology of malaria occurs at the intersection of two huge and complex fields of science. The help and input of knowledge and equipment that we derive from collaborations within the institute, both within the Infection and Immunology Research Area and with other divisions, is indispensible for our work. We do not believe that a move into London can possibly improve our facilities, the collaborations available to us, or our science. In contrast, it would cost millions and interrupt our work setting us back in the fight against malaria; which means that millions more would die while we struggle to get back on our feet. We have outlined below what we consider to be the irreplaceable facilities and the critical mass of disciplines and internationally renowned scientists at Mill Hill required for our work on malaria to succeed against this wily internal predator.

  Dear Sirs,

  We are writing in support of keeping the NIMR in Mill Hill. We have confined our comments to three critical areas. Firstly, the positive aspects of the present site for our work, including the animal facility, the finest in the UK. Secondly, the perfect constellation of disciplines assembled here, including the best immunology faculty and the highest concentration of malaria research as well as truly world-class faculty experts in recombinant protein structure and production. The third area we would like to highlight is our very successful clinical collaboration in Africa, which would not benefit by co-location with any UK clinical centre/hospital.

    (i)  Internal Collaboration: The first two areas are best summarized by the work of the dendritic cell group within our laboratory. We are studying the cells which initiate the protective immune response to malaria, Dendritic Cells. If we want to develop an efficient malaria vaccine, it is critical to understand how these cells are triggered. We are fortunate to have the support of scientists in the other divisions of the Infection and Immunity group who have tremendous experience in other infectious diseases like tuberculosis and influenza to help me plan and execute my experiments. Researchers in the division of Immune Regulation have been critical in developing the techniques we are using in malaria, and are always available just upstairs to help and discuss.

    (ii)  Biological Services: The study of malaria requires veterinary technicians trained to follow special requirements in mouse care. We are very well supported by the experienced staff in Biological Services who run a unique unit specialized in malaria for our work. Moving mice is a process which takes years and is incredibly disruptive to a lab. Our lab moved here from Germany several years ago, and we have just gotten all of our strains back into use this year.

  We would like to point out that we would not be able to do our experiments unless the mouse facility is very close to the lab (see Figure 1), we would not be able to move to a new site without this amenity. We want to know how the malaria parasite stimulates Dendritic Cells so I mix the two together. First, we have to catch the parasite at the right time of day, sometimes this means multiple trips to the mouse facility to check if it is ready. Then, I have to purify the parasite and the dendritic cells. The dendritic cells are very fragile and also quite rare, so time is of the essence. Several of us work together to rush back and forth from the mouse house checking the parasites to the purification equipment in the Parasitology and Immunology divisions. Having all of the right ingredients here at Mill Hill has made this work possible.

    (iii)  Clinical Collaboration Though we have several productive collaborations with immunologists and parasite biologists in the UK, our primary external collaboration is with clinicians and scientists in Kilifi, on the coast of Kenya. Over the years we have hosted scientists and been hosted by Wellcome Trust/KEMRI Research Laboratories. By commuting back and forth, Kenyan scientists investigating basic biology of malaria vaccine candidates have been able to utilize the facilities at the to do cutting edge work on human malaria. British students have also been able to utilize the well-developed cohorts at the malaria clinic there for samples to investigate here in the UK. Scientists, ideas and equipment move between Oxford, Kilifi and Mill Hill in a very productive set of collaborations in pursuit of a malaria vaccine testing options in Kenya in humans and here in mice. This type of collaboration could not be improved by a move into London, in fact a move would disrupt the laboratory financially and physically, only possibly delaying the timeline of any advances toward a vaccine trial.

  We hope that this description of our laboratory's work can provide some insight into why we believe that our best interests as scientists, and as people living in Britain, are best served by the multi-disciplinary basic research institute we currently have at Mill Hill with its divisions geographically linked and its excellent facilities close to hand. We do not believe that combining this institute with any other institution in the UK would lead to an improved output of clinically relevant science. Alternate proposals should be considered for enhancing this type of collaboration and providing training opportunities for clinicians and researchers wishing to translate basic science to the bedside.

23 November 2004

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