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Daniela Ferreira, Professor of Respiratory Infection and Vaccinology at the University of Oxford’s Department of Paediatrics and the Department of Clinical Sciences at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine has been awarded one of six prestigious Research Professorships by the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR).

Daniela Ferreira, Professor of Respiratory Infection and Vaccinology, has been awarded one of six prestigious Research Professorships by the NIHR

The Professorship Scheme, which is the NIHR’s flagship award, funds and supports research leaders of the future. It aims to strengthen and benefit health, public health and care research leadership by turning observations in the laboratory, clinic and community into interventions that improve the health of individuals and the public — from diagnostics and therapeutics to medical procedures and behavioural changes.

Daniela’s research will focus on improving our understanding of nasal immunity to enhance vaccine protection against respiratory infections.

She says: “I am delighted to be awarded this Professorship by the NIHR. For over 20 years I have worked on understanding and preventing chest infections caused by a bacteria called pneumococcus. I now want to find answers to some important questions about how getting sick with multiple infections - viruses and bacteria at the same time - can make pneumonia worse, and how we can use our body’s responses, particularly in the nose, to reduce the numbers of people who get ill and spread disease in communities.”

Pneumonia is a lung disease which kills over a million children every year worldwide. It is also a major health problem in the UK, especially for adults over the age of 65 and people with long-term lung disease like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The problem also gets worse in winter when other respiratory viruses, like flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), are around.

She adds: “The vaccines that are currently available do not give adults enough protection. I have developed new ways to collect fluid and cells to detect viral and bacterial infections, as well as to understand how the body responds to these infections in the nose. I will develop new controlled human infection models, a special method where the inside of peoples’ noses is infected with small amounts of bacteria and virus safely, to help us understand why some people exposed to the infection agent develop infection and some do not. This method is valuable for helping us speed up vaccine development, as only small groups of people are needed to test if vaccines work.”

This year, the leading researchers will receive five-year awards of up to £2 million. They will also receive a package of extensive support which includes three support posts and access to a leadership and development programme.

Daniela, who works with the Oxford Vaccine Group in the Department of Paediatrics, is also Director of the Liverpool Vaccine Group at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. She played a substantial role in the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the leadership of the Liverpool’s STOP COVID response and the NIHR NWC Vaccine Alliance Liverpool. Her Liverpool-based team was a trial site for several Covid vaccine studies including the Phase II/III of the Oxford/AZ vaccine.

Since 2011, 66 people have been successful in gaining the competitive NIHR Professorship Scheme award. Many have gone on to become senior research leader including Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care and CEO of the NIHR.

Professor Waljit Dhillo, Scientific Director for Research Capacity and Capabilities at NIHR, said: “I am delighted and honoured to welcome the latest group of outstanding researchers to the NIHR Research Professorship scheme. Their expertise in health and care research will help improve people's health and wellbeing.

“The NIHR Research Professorship is one of the most prestigious awards we offer. I look forward to seeing the difference the research will make to the lives of people and communities across the UK.”