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School of the Biological Sciences

Biology is a constant struggle between pathogens that seek to exploit the resources of their hosts, and host immune systems that seek to prevent this. Over 80 leading scientists in the Infection and Immunity Research Theme study multiple facets of infection and immunity, ranging from the functions of individual host or pathogen proteins, and of specific immune cells in the body, through to population-scale studies of infectious disease spread. This research contributes to some of the biggest questions we face in the 21st century: Can we prevent the next pandemic before it occurs? Can malaria and tuberculosis be consigned to the history books? How can we harness the immune system to fight diseases like cancer? Research by Infection and Immunity Theme members will provide fundamental insights into immune system function and the biology of pathogens, underpinning the development of new therapies to improve human and animal health, and helping safeguard the crops on which we depend.

Current areas of focus include: Understanding the Immune System to Treat Disease; Changing Pathogens in a Changing World; The molecular interface between pathogens and hosts


Recent Discoveries

Effectiveness of antibiotics significantly reduced when multiple bugs present

A study has found that much higher doses of antibiotics are needed to eliminate a bacterial infection of the airways when other microbes are present. It helps explain why respiratory infections often persist in people with lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis despite treatment. 

A team of researchers from the Department of Biochemistry say that even a low level of one type of microbe in the airways can have a profound effect on the way other microbes respond to antibiotics. The results highlight the need to consider the interaction between different species of microbe when treating infections with antibiotics - and to adjust dosage accordingly. Read


Cambridge coronavirus vaccine enters clinical trial

Needle-free vaccine targets COVID-19 variants and future coronaviruses.

Developed by Professor Jonathan Heeney at the University of Cambridge and spin-out company DIOSynVax, this is a next generation coronavirus vaccine administered through a needle-free ‘injection’ – a blast of air that delivers it into the skin. This offers a possible future alternative to people who fear needle-based jabs. Read

Wider Impact

Fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone

Ebola virus is one of the deadliest pathogens known to humans. It causes Ebola haemorrhagic fever which is fatal in 50% of cases. It can be transmitted between humans or from animals to humans.

Ian Goodfellow led an international team that established an ‘in field’ lab for rapid Ebola diagnosis and the first genetic sequencing facility in Sierra Leone. This effort processed >25,000 samples in the field, reduced diagnosis time from 7 days to 4–6 hours and directly informed the World health Organization (WHO) response strategy. As a direct result, the spread of Ebola was tracked and minimised, allowing containment of disease sources, ultimately ending the epidemic. Read


Photo of vaccine

Shaping WHO meningitis guidelines

Meningitis is a serious infection that causes swelling of the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Caroline Trotter was engaged by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a trusted advisor to help tackle the challenge of meningitis on the African continent. Epidemiological modelling of vaccine strategies using MenAfriVac® to control bacterial meningitis group A, widely found in sub-Saharan Africa, was undertaken at the University of Cambridge. Trotter’s contributions led to the successful introduction of the vaccine into routine immunisation schedules, supported by a ‘catch-up’ campaign. Read

Theme Leads

Louise Boyle


Stephen Graham


Olivier Restif

Veterinary Medicine

Theme Members

A - F

Lida Derevnina

John Doorbar

Ming-Qing Du

James Edgar

Sebastian Eves-van den Akker

Brian Ferguson

Andrew Firth

Gillian Fraser




G - O

Nick Holmes

Charlotte Houldcroft

Kate Hughes

Nerea Irigoyen

Randall Johnson

Adrian Kelly

Vassilis Koronakis

Heike Laman

Valeria Lulla

Bidesh Mahata




P - W

Julian Parkhill

Uta Paszkowski

Taufiq Rahman

Olivier Restif

Rahul Roychoudhuri

Henrik Salje

George Salmond

Milka Sarris

Wilhelm Schwaeble

Liza Selley

Andrew Sharkey

Jordan Skittrall

Geoffrey Smith

Stephen Smith

Derek Smith

Elizabeth Soilleux

Nancy Standart

David Summers

Trevor Sweeney

James Thaventhiran

Laurence Tiley

Caroline Trotter

A.W. (Dan) Tucker

Ross Waller

Penny Watson

Lucy Weinert

Martin Welch

Jeremy Wells

Tim Williams

Shona Wilson

James Wood


Learn More

Members of the School can find out more about the Research Themes on the School Information Hub.

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