Helen Fryer and Angela McLean from of the Institute for Emerging Infections have published important new findings on the risk from prions, the infectious agent responsible for ‘mad cow disease’ and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Based on ideas from toxicology and radiology, it is often assumed that exposure to harmful agents, including prions, is completely safe at low enough doses. The study, published in the journal PLoS One, is the first to investigate the existence of a threshold dose of prions, below which the probability of infection is zero. Using mathematical tools to analyse data from over 4000 prion experiments, the pair have revealed that there is no evidence for the existence of such a threshold dose. The implications are profound for managing risks such as the potential transfer of vCJD via surgical instruments. The findings suggest that although very small quantities of prions may pose a very small risk of infection, that risk does not disappear as the dose becomes smaller.

Dr Jenny Smith, former Oxford Martin School Fellow, has been awarded an Oxford DPhil for her work on the viral diversity and dynamics of hepatitis C. Jenny continues to work as a Mathematical Biologist at Imperial College London, and we wish her every success for the future.

Jenny's thesis combined observational and modelling work to explore the causes and consequences of within-host competition between different strains of Hepatitis C Virus. In her first paper http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/202/12/1770.full she published these beautiful descriptions of the dynamics of HCV quasispecies clades within subjects through acute infection.

Professor Angela McLean, Co-Director of the Institute for Emerging Infections, has joined the Royal Society’s Scientific Aspects of International Security (SAIS) Committee

SAIS was established in 1988 and considers a range of security issues, including: arms control and non-proliferation; governance of ‘dual-use’ scientific research; security impacts of developing science and technology; and counter-terrorism.

Its principal role is to advise the Royal Society’s Science Policy Centre (SPC), and the SPC Advisory Group that oversees the Centre, on international security issues.  The expertise on the committee covers a wide range of disciplines and the current membership includes Royal Society Fellows and other scientists, as well as science and security policy experts.

The mission of the Institute for Emerging Infections is to understand the underlying processes that drive the emergence and spread of novel human infectious diseases. A multi-disciplinary team of biologists, mathematicians and clinicians are studying recently emerged infections and using the knowledge thus gained to anticipate challenges that will be posed by novel emergent infections in the 21st century.