The diseases being investigated by the research team are mainly meningococcal disease and other forms of meningitis, tuberculosis, Kawasaki disease and malaria.
In meningococcal disease, the team is looking for reasons why some patients suffer blood clots and loss of limbs and others come through the disease relatively unscathed.
The team has now identified a new defect in a specific protein controlling blood clotting, the discovery of which has opened up a whole pathway for medical intervention. These results have led to a trial of a new form of treatment (activated protein C) which is now being undertaken in children with septic shock.
In 1996, Professor Levin's research team identified the first human gene that causes susceptibility to tuberculosis. The paper revealing this discovery is one of the most frequently cited papers in tuberculosis research in the last ten years. The team is now examining the roles of other genes on the same pathway.
Kawasaki disease is a childhood disease that primarily affects children under five years old. It is the leading cause of acquired heart disease in children. If not detected and treated immediately, it can result in damage to the coronary arteries and death.
Malaria kills over a million children in Africa each year, despite the availability of effective antimalarial drugs. It has not been clear why the children die, even after receiving treatment.
The St Mary's/Imperial College research team undertook a study to understand the reasons why the children die. By taking sophisticated intensive care methods and monitoring to Kenya, and studying severely ill children there in collaboration with local doctors and researchers, the team were able to show that a high proportion of deaths are due to an imbalance of fluids in the body.
A trial of treatment with different fluids has shown that relatively simple treatments can dramatically reduce the death rate. A major trial is now being planned in Africa.