Scientists get £2.5m to put tick diseases under the microscope

A WORLD-leading centre to study the diseases spread by ticks is being set up in Edinburgh.

The tiny mites can cause serious illnesses such as tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), and are second only to mosquitoes as spreaders of diseases to humans.

Now scientists based at the University of Edinburgh have been given 2.5 million to launch a new unit to investigate the creatures and look for ways to prevent disease.

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In some parts of the world, ticks can transmit severe and potentially deadly diseases to humans and animals, including Lyme disease, TBE and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever.

In the UK they pose a serious problem to campers and hikers, who can be bitten while in the countryside.

In Scotland, cases of Lyme disease have increased dramatically in recent years.

According to Health Protection Scotland, there were 37 cases of Lyme disease reported in 2000, rising to 605 last year.

Across the rest of Europe, TBE is now endemic in 27 countries, including Germany and Croatia, potentially affecting holidaymakers from the UK.

The Edinburgh scientists hope to find new ways to prevent diseases transmitted by ticks, which cause misery for people who enjoy the outdoors.

They will try to understand how viruses and bacteria transmitted by ticks can survive for long periods within the creatures without damaging them.

Tick numbers are surging in Europe and scientists have warned that changing climate patterns and increasing globalisation could enable them to spread into new areas.

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Edinburgh University's Roslin Institute has received funding from the Wellcome Trust to establish the Roslin Wellcome Trust Tick Cell Biobank, the world's largest collection of tick cell lines, enabling scientists to carry out this advanced research.

The Tick Cell Biobank team and collaborators from seven other European countries have received further funding from the European Union to train a new generation of scientists specialising in ticks and their related diseases.

Project leader Professor John Fazakerley, based at the Roslin Institute and Centre for Infectious Diseases, said: "Tick-transmitted infections are likely to be increasingly important in the future. Understanding these diseases and training scientists to undertake research on them is important for both human and animal heath."

Wendy Fox, of Lyme disease charity Bada-UK, welcomed the research centre.

"In the UK, cases of Lyme disease are increasing and currently there is no vaccine to defend against this infection.

"Hopefully this research will encourage members of the public and healthcare professionals to take tick-borne diseases seriously."

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