Professor Tom Solomon was in a showering when he got a descending feeling in his stomach. It was Jul 2014 and Radio 4’s Today programme was observant on Ebola. As executive of a University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, he was already good proficient with a outbreak, that had been initial reported in March, in Guinea. But there had been outbreaks of Ebola each few years in Africa given a mid-70s, and they were routinely brought underneath control sincerely quickly. True, this outbreak looked bigger than on prior occasions – there had already been a few hundred deaths – yet Solomon put this down to a fact that it was a initial time Ebola had strike west rather than executive Africa, and people were unprepared.

That morning, Solomon listened dual things that gave him pause. First, a alloy who was streamer a response in Sierra Leone, Sheik Humarr Khan, had hold Ebola himself; he after died. And second, for a initial time, an airline newcomer had unwittingly carried Ebola to a new country, Nigeria.

By now Solomon’s mind was racing. If Khan had hold a disease, and he was meant to be streamer a response, there was no approach this conflict was going to be tranquil yet many some-more assistance from outside. And a fact that an airline newcomer had carried Ebola was also rarely significant: this was a initial time it had happened. If Ebola could be carried on a craft to Nigeria, where next?

He’d had that descending feeling twice before in his life – when he didn’t consider he’d be means to shun from a hotel glow in Vietnam, and as a youth doctor, when a studious was draining out in front of him. He knew something indispensable to be finished quickly. If it wasn’t, a consequences would be disastrous.

Three months earlier, in Apr 2014, a sanatorium had won a £4m extend to open a new health insurance investigate section specialising in rising infections. As partial of a application, Solomon had left into good fact about any array of dangerous infections – Japanese encephalitis, tick encephalitis, influenza, dengue, West Nile virus, enterovirus 71, hantavirus, hepatitis E, Lyme disease. Did he discuss Ebola? Solomon smiles. “Yes. Ebola was a footnote in a application… Little did we know.”

Now, Solomon and his group immediately got to work. By August, a World Health Organisation announced a widespread to be an general open health puncture – a largest conflict in history. It was a illness with an abominable humankind rate, estimated during 70% by a WHO final October. Official total record that roughly 10,000 people in west Africa have died so far; unofficially, that figure is feared to be distant higher. And nonetheless a numbers of cases seem to be entrance underneath control, they could go adult again.

The institute’s new health insurance investigate section approaching to order a £4m among a many infections it has been researching over a years. Not surprisingly, things haven’t worked out like that. “Much of a activity has been diverted to Ebola,” Solomon says. For a swelling diseases industry, a gait of investigate has been astonishing. It mostly takes decades to arise vaccines opposite lethal infections, and some of a deadliest bugs, such as malaria, are still derisive a world’s tip scientists some-more than a century after being discovered. “As a community, we have shown that when we need to set adult drug and vaccine trials quickly, we can respond,” Solomon says. “And we hopefully will have a vaccine and diagnosis during a finish of this terrible disaster, so some good will have come out of it.” His group is ancillary several studies, including one led by his co-worker Dr Peter Horby in Oxford, and another led by Belgian scientists.

The initial thing Solomon’s group assessed was where a illness would widespread next. They expected that a US would be a initial non-African nation to import Ebola, which it did in September, and, with frightful accuracy, that Britain would have one box by a finish of 2014.


Perhaps a many startling thing about Ebola is that, notwithstanding it initial being identified in a 1970s, and notwithstanding unchanging outbreaks, so little work has been finished until now to quarrel it – no effective drugs, no vaccine, usually a customary procedures of isolating patients, not touching them, unchanging dousing in chlorine whiten for a uninfected.

Look during it from a parasite’s viewpoint; it doesn’t wish to kill you, it usually wants to hang out in there

The primary source, where a Ebola pathogen hangs out naturally, is still not totally clear. It has prolonged been suspicion to disseminate in fruit bats, that afterwards pass it to other animals including monkeys and antelopes. Humans can turn putrescent from a bats directly, or from eating bushmeat. The initial famous studious in a stream outbreak, two-year-old Emile Ouamouno, is suspicion to have hold a illness from personification with putrescent fruit bats in a vale tree in Meliandou, a little encampment low in a Guinean forest. It was afterwards transmitted to others around a classic, lethal pattern: by human-to-human contact, mostly during credentials for funerals, when families rinse their desired ones’ bodies. At a indicate when Ebola victims die, they are during their many infectious. There were usually 31 houses in Meliandou, yet within 4 months of Emile’s death, 13 others in a encampment had been buried.

The WHO reports that a widespread of a illness has now slowed, from a arise of hundreds of new cases a week to reduction than 100 cases a week in late January, yet by a commencement of Mar had risen to 132 – 81 of them in Sierra Leone. A vaccine is being trialled and progressing predictions of 1 million people being putrescent will hopefully infer to have been an hapless blip for a statisticians.

But whatever we do, Solomon says, don’t blink how critical a widespread has been – and continues to be. “It’s been an emergency, a crisis, a catastrophe, all of those things. To have 10,000 deaths… it’s been a disaster.”


The institute’s base, a Ronald Ross Building, is in a centre of a building site in downtown Liverpool. At a glance, it’s tough to know possibly a buildings are going adult or entrance down. In fact, this is one of a city’s expansion areas, famous as the Knowledge Quarter. Biomedical investigate is sepulchral here. More than 300 people work in a sanatorium – medics, scientists, managers. Every room is a melting pot of accents and nationalities. Solomon prides himself on recruiting from distant and wide: if we wish a best, he says, you’ve got to go global.

When a sanatorium was shaped in 2010, it brought together medics, vets and scientists operative on infection and tellurian health problems. “We’re substantially a usually UK sanatorium that has these groups operative corresponding during a bench,” Solomon says. “Zoonotic bugs – those that burst from animals to humans – are apropos some-more and some-more important. So the One Health approach, that recognises that a health of humans, animals and a sourroundings are interconnected, is key.” Another thing that creates a sanatorium surprising is a gender balance: roughly 50% of a scientists here are women. (Recent statistics uncover that in a UK usually one-third of scholarship graduates are female, and usually 9% of professors.)

Britain, France and a US have led a approach in rebellious Ebola – and a sanatorium is one of Britain’s streamer investigate units operative on a virus, alongside Public Health England, Oxford University, Imperial College London, and a dual schools of pleasant medicine in London and Liverpool. Liverpool has been during a heart of investigate into swelling diseases for some-more than 100 years. As one of a country’s streamer pier cities, it did endless trade with Africa and Asia, and as a outcome perplexed some-more than a share of pleasant diseases. The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine was founded in 1898 by Sir Alfred Lewis Jones, a internal shipowner, a year before its London counterpart. It was a initial establishment in a universe to specialise in training and researching pleasant diseases. And a city’s possess Ronald Ross was a initial British leader of a Nobel esteem in physiology or medicine, for display that mosquitoes broadcast malaria.

Ross is one of Solomon’s heroes. A cupboard on a belligerent building of a sanatorium contains his antique microscope, a one he took into a margin in India. “There are not a lot of positives about mosquitoes,” Solomon says. “When people contend what animal is a biggest torpedo of man, some contend sharks, some tigers, yet it’s indeed mosquitoes. They kill by malaria, they kill by encephalitis, they kill by dengue. Some other insects such as ticks and midges also lift bugs, yet mosquitoes are distant and divided a nastiest.”

I initial met Solomon in 2013, during a fundraising duty for the Encephalitis Society. We are both ambassadors (he given he is one of a country’s tip experts on this infection of a brain, me given we survived it). In a brightly phony waistcoat and oversized spectacles, he had something of a children’s TV presenter about him. He addressed a room of City bankers who knew zero of a disease. Solomon perplexed his assembly – he was clear, accessible, relocating and, during times, even comical about this mostly potentially lethal mind infection. Next time we listened of him, he was presenting a video to proclaim encephalitis in that he pennyless a Guinness universe record for a biggest organ finished of people: a tellurian mind stoical of hundreds of people in multicolored cagoules.

Solomon grew adult in Manchester to an accountant father and clergyman mother. He was splendid adequate as a schoolboy, yet zero special. Ditto university, he says. It was usually when he detected bugs that he came into his own.

It’s not easy to stop Solomon, 49, when he’s articulate about infections. This isn’t a job, it’s a vocation. Possibly an obsession. It all goes behind to his initial outing to Africa as a medical student. He had suspicion he would be a GP until he started operative with malaria patients. “Occasionally, you’ll lay in a sanatorium in this nation and consider some of these people haven’t got that many wrong with them, yet it wasn’t like that out there. There were large hurdles that we could do something about if we were lucky.”

He had designed to control a investigate to see if malaria patients had low blood sugar. However, usually as he was streamer to Mozambique, someone published a paper in a Lancet display accurately that. So he broadened his investigate doubt to demeanour during a attribute between blood sugarine levels and all critical childhood diseases. He tested each child who presented, by day and night, to a indicate of being ill himself. He detected that many ill children had low blood sugarine levels, not usually those with malaria, and his commentary finished it into a Lancet, too.

Solomon returned from Africa, underwent clinical training and then, in his late 20s, headed to Vietnam with his partner Rachel, to work on a Japanese encephalitis epidemic. Three years later, he returned to Britain with Rachel, by now his wife, and dual adopted Vietnamese babies. Leah, now 19, was brought to a sanatorium with tetanus when she was 10 days old. Solomon and Rachel adopted her. Just before they left Vietnam, baby Daisy was brought to a internal institution and they adopted her, too. They also have dual younger biological daughters, Rosie and Eva – they’re “home-grown,” Solomon says.

Solomon’s bureau is a covenant to his many passions. On his table is a potion kukri full of rum, a present from his investigate associate in Nepal. “I’ll usually give we a little bit given it’s unequivocally strong,” he says, “but during slightest we get a flavour.” He pours and clinks glasses. “Cheers. we don’t routinely splash it during work.”

On his cupboard is a design of Rachel and a girls, behind his chair is a sealed Liverpool football shirt, and offset precariously on a high shelf is an Olympic flame (he was an central torchbearer in 2012). His bookshelves are congested with medical textbooks, a array of that he has created or edited. He shows me a certificate of that he is utterly proud, observant that: “The Guinness universe record for a fastest marathon dressed as a alloy was achieved by Tom Solomon in 4 hours 21 mins and 9 seconds.” He ran as The Running Mad Professor (his Twitter hoop is @RunningMadProf), lifting £21,000 for a Encephalitis Society.

On a wall are framed photographs of heroes from history. “Sir William Osler is a male who radically tangible medical scholarship as we’re still doing it 150 years later. He was one of a guys who said: ‘We need to investigate diseases by looking during people who are sick, during a bedside.’ Before that, a lot of it was usually theory, pristine fancy, schooled in a harangue theatres.” He points to another photograph. “That’s Alexandre Yersin, who was in Vietnam. He detected that illness was caused by a bacteria. we was in Vietnam 100 years after him. Then, not prolonged after, we had Sars function in south-east Asia, and there were a lot of parallels.”

Solomon is a good fan of practitioner-scientists such as Osler and Yersin. These days, he spends dual days a week operative with patients during the Walton Centre and Royal Liverpool University hospital, and 3 during a institute. For a past 20 years, he has specialised in encephalitis – another infection with a intolerable humankind rate. Encephalitis is an inflammation of a mind that, in Britain, is mostly caused by a herpes pathogen (unlike Japanese encephalitis, that is upheld on by mosquitoes). Survivors of encephalitis are mostly left with complex, untreatable problems. Solomon tells me of a studious who can't lay down new memories. “He can’t remember anything given a 1970s. His tough drive, if we like, has mislaid 30 years’ value of memories.”

We conduct for lunch in the Victoria Gallery Museum, a strange Liverpool University building. “Just think,” Solomon says, “the building subsequent to us is where Ronald Ross worked, and 100 years on we’re still operative on rising diseases widespread by mosquitoes.” A sit-down lunch is a oppulance – he routinely grabs a sandwich. Over lunch, it becomes apparent that he has utterly an love for infections. He anthropomorphises viruses, tells me since we have to demeanour during things from their indicate of perspective rather than from ours – they are usually perplexing to get on with life, imitate and survive. People assume that they wish to kill humans, yet a law couldn’t be some-more different. Those viruses that know what is good for them competence make people ill or distortion implicit for years, flourishing off humans, yet not destroying us. After all, if they kill us, they kill themselves.

Ebola isn’t foolish – it’s flattering good during duping a defence system. But millions of people get malaria

Back during a institute, Chris Moxon, a scientist in his 30s, is sitting during his computer, study intelligent malaria. Three years ago he was in Malawi operative with malaria patients. Now he’s practical for a £600,000 extend to serve his research. Does he wish to find a resolution to a disease? Moxon, a sensitively oral intellectual, is amused by a question. “You can’t request for a extend observant you’re going to solve intelligent malaria, given people will laugh.”

Solomon: “It’s all incremental.”

Moxon: “Yes, we usually chip away.”

Solomon: “When we was a youngster, there were 2 million deaths a year from malaria. Now it’s half a million deaths a year.”

Moxon is not wholly convinced. “It depends on who we go with. Chris Murray [a researcher in open health and tellurian health during a University of Washington] pronounced [there were] 1.2 million deaths a year in 2012. He suspicion a WHO underestimated it.”

While Moxon and Solomon oppose over figures, they determine that Ebola is distant some-more expected to be marinated than malaria. “The disproportion with Ebola is that, potentially, within a brief cycle, by a finish of 2015, we competence good have a diagnosis that works and a vaccine,” Solomon says. A group led by Professor Julian Hiscox during a institute, in partnership with Public Health England, has been looking for probable treatments. They examined that proteins inside a dungeon are hijacked by a pathogen to assistance it reproduce, and detected that one pathogen protein, famous as VP24, disrupts signalling in putrescent tellurian cells and so impairs a quarrel opposite a virus. In September, Hiscox suggested that a drug famous as ouabain, traditionally used for serious heart disease, could revoke a virus’s replication.

Is Moxon astounded by a gait of swell with Ebola? “It is extraordinary. It is smashing to have a outrageous universe seductiveness and everybody entrance together. But even with that volume of income and attention, we couldn’t make that volume of advance on malaria.” You get a sense that conjunction Solomon nor Moxon many respects Ebola as a virus, since malaria is hold in awe.

Malaria is simply smarter, Solomon says. “It has been training how to equivocate a defence complement for millennia, given we are a healthy horde for it. we remember when we was an even younger tyro than you,” he tells Moxon, “in Mozambique, we went to a encampment and bled all a kids there. They were personification football and carrying fun, nonetheless one in 3 of them had malaria parasites in their blood. So this bug has schooled how to live in a tellurian physique yet creation we so ill that we die, given it doesn’t wish to kill you. You’ve got to demeanour during it from a parasite’s viewpoint; it usually wants to hang out in there.”

“And occasionally, unfortunately, it creates someone unequivocally sick,” Moxon adds.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Solomon says, “Ebola isn’t foolish – in fact, it’s flattering good during duping a defence system.” But malaria is some-more worldly in that it can taint a horde again and again. Ebola possibly kills a tellurian or is killed by a human. “Millions of people get malaria. The usually people who get Ebola are those who are caring for somebody who is ill with Ebola. Unless you’re mopping adult after them, you’re not so many during risk.”

We’ve been tracking Japanese encephalitis, and one probability is that meridian change is permitting it to spread

The problem in west Africa is that so many of a medics were infected. “The medical services there are descending apart. In some places, half a doctors and nurses are dead.” For this reason, Solomon says, it is critical that UK medical workers continue going to west Africa to diagnose and provide patients. He mentions a helper Pauline Cafferkey, who was diagnosed usually once she had returned to Britain, acknowledging that her story is adequate to put some off going out to help. “She was protected, operative for Médecins sans Frontières, she shouldn’t have got sick. And if someone like that is removing ill, it creates people think, blimey. The strange west African doctors and nurses who died, it was given they didn’t have correct rigging to strengthen themselves. If Pauline Cafferkey had died, it would have a bad impact on people’s eagerness to go. But, in some ways, this isn’t new: medics have always been during risk of swelling diseases. A lot of doctors used to die of TB usually given they were unprotected to it.”

Thankfully, Cafferkey finished a good recovery, yet does he feel concerned when his staff go to west Africa? Yes, of course, he says – and somewhat guilty. “If I’ve got people going out there, apparently I’d like to consider I’d lead by example.” Solomon has volunteered to go, yet it has been motionless that he is indispensable some-more during a institute, using things there.

Is there any probability of an Ebola widespread in Britain? No, he says, this is when a NHS comes into a own. “The supervision can say, ‘This is a kind of sanatorium that can take patients, this is how they should be set up’, since in America it’s a array of states that do their possess thing, so patients incited adult and they were not prepared for it.”

Twenty-six-year-old biotechnologist Raquel Medialdea Carrera has been during a sanatorium for 4 months and is about to fly out to Sierra Leone, where she will be operative in a diagnostics laboratory set adult by Public Health England. Is she nervous? “Not yet. we got unequivocally shaken when we had to tell my parents, who are behind in Spain. That was scary. First we told my father, and he pronounced don’t tell your mom until you’re there. But we told her. And they understood.”

What do her friends consider when she tells them she is going? “Most of them are like, ‘Are we crazy?’ The second greeting is, ‘Don’t get tighten to me for a few months after you’re back.’”

Medialdea Carrera will be in Sierra Leone for 5 weeks – a limit army allowed. She will wear a full physique fit to work, and is authorised to do usually 3 one-hour shifts a day. “Because it’s positively exhausting,” Solomon explains. “It’s like stepping into an oven dressed in this cosmetic suit.”

When she returns, she will get time off work to safeguard she’s healthy and to readjust. It is not odd for people to lapse traumatised after what they’ve seen. The fear is not usually in a array of deaths, yet in their manner.


We’re streamer towards a containment turn 3 lab. This is a top containment turn during a sanatorium (the comprehensive top is containment turn four, run by Public Health England during Porton Down – full physique suits are indispensable even to enter, and that is where a tangible Ebola pathogen is worked on). To enter containment turn three, we have to pass by a kind of air-locked doors we would find in a high-security prison. The room is freezing, and a usually sound is a consistent automatic whirring of a disastrous vigour cupboard that pulls in a atmosphere flow, so if there is a spillage of virus, it will arise adult by a filters and keep workers safe. Solomon points to a large freezer regulated during -77C to keep all a viruses in arise condition (home freezers work during -20C). On a doorway of a freezer are a names of all a viruses deposited (dengue, Japanese encephalitis, chikungunya) and a scientists who have been operative on them (Lucy, Daniel, Denis, Jenny, Neil and Kevin). The infrequent cognisance of a initial names subsequent to a lethal illness labels is unnerving.

Of all a diseases Solomon has worked with, it’s Japanese encephalitis that continues to intruigued him most. Another crafty bug, he says, and one that he has enjoyed many success combating.

When he went to Vietnam in 1991, a children who were unwell, in comas or carrying fits, were suspicion to have intelligent malaria, yet it incited out to be Japanese encephalitis. Others looked as if they had polio, even yet polio had been flattering good eradicated. These children also valid to be putrescent with a Japanese encephalitis virus. The illness manifests itself in opposite forms, creation it wily to diagnose. Twenty years ago, there was usually one general lab in south-east Asia where they could exam for it, so Solomon and his colleagues during a University of Malaysia in Sarawak grown a new evidence kit: a elementary exam they could do by a bedside.

“We call it a dot peck kit,” Solomon says. “Essentially, we were putting blood on blotting paper and looking during a colour change. Tests like that are now used opposite a whole of south-east Asia.” They also devised a elementary approach of measuring a outcome of Japanese encephalitis, now famous as the Liverpool Outcome Score. This measure means that governments can work out how many incapacity there is, how many Japanese encephalitis is costing them, and confirm possibly it is cost-effective to vaccinate. And many have motionless it is. The finish outcome is that manufacturers have brought down a cost of a vaccine and are producing millions of doses.

But Japanese encephalitis stays impossibly formidable to treat. While it is estimated that over a past 10 years adult to 800,000 box have been prevented by a use of vaccines, there is still no drug to provide those who get infected. In one trial, interferon, a drug traditionally used for cancers and hepatitis, slowed down a illness, yet did not stop people dying. Solomon and his team, the Brain Infections Group, are still operative on other treatments.

Meanwhile, a pathogen is swelling to new geographical areas. The final decade has seen a illness climb adult towards a highlands of Nepal. Previously, it was found usually in a low-lying rice paddy areas. “We’ve been tracking it,” Solomon says, “and one probability is that meridian change is permitting a illness to spread.”

There was a time we thought, give antibiotics for everything. Bugs are apropos resistant. It’s Darwinian evolution

Japanese encephalitis, that is carried by mosquitoes, is doubtful to turn a problem in a UK, yet Solomon wouldn’t order anything out. “With meridian change, some diseases that couldn’t come here given it was too cold competence be means to in a future. Dengue is another illness carried by mosquitoes that we’re saying in Europe a bit, and that competence come to a UK eventually. There is also lots of tick-born encephalitis in Europe, and a UK is during risk from that, too. So it’s about looking during what a risks are and perplexing to lessen them.”

So what is a biggest hazard confronting people in a UK? Ah, Solomon says, a biggest hazard is not a singular disease. He takes me down to a outrageous laboratory to explain. This is usually containment turn two, definition we can travel around in white coats, yet a work going on here is critical for a future. “There was a time when we suspicion we had infections burst – we could usually give antibiotics for everything.” That is, until we started to overuse them, both in treating tellurian infections, yet also in a tillage industry.

Now, antimicrobial resistance, also famous as antibiotic resistance, is one of a biggest threats. “Bugs are apropos resistant to antimicrobials,” Solomon says. “It’s usually Darwinian evolution.” The arise of these antimicrobial-resistant bugs is a terrifying prospect, and that is since places such as a sanatorium are dedicating so many appetite to rebellious it.

We accommodate Elaine Waters, who is counting germ in a little plate to see how many are resistant. She is partial of a group looking for alternatives to antibiotics. Their commentary have usually been published in a scholarship biography Nature, display a new approach of treating bacterial infections. Instead of antibiotics, liposomes – tiny, lab-produced froth of fat – are used to opening adult a toxins.

These liposomes could be lifesavers for millions. But, as with many medical research, we are articulate long-term, Solomon says. “The subsequent step is to uncover it works in animals, afterwards to uncover it’s protected in humans. The clinical trials take years to set adult and do, that is since a Ebola thing is so remarkable: it’s all been finished over months.”

Meanwhile, to control antimicrobial resistance, we have to make improved use of a antibiotics we have. “We’ve got to somehow inspire GPs and a open to haven them for those who are unequivocally unwell. Convince farmers not to use them ad lib to make animals grow some-more quickly.”

Solomon hopes that during 2015 scientists will get a improved of Ebola. And afterwards they will concentration on a many other perils, famous and unknown, that follow in a wake. Yes, there competence be other intensity Ebolas out there, yet one of a many critical battles to be fought in a world’s laboratories over a subsequent few years will be antimicrobial resistance. If antibiotics do destroy us, it could be inauspicious for humankind – pneumonia, for example, would once again turn a common killer.

But Solomon is an optimist: rather than focusing on a threat, he prefers to see it as an opportunity. He looks during a liposomes dancing in their little plate of germ and toxins rather lovingly: “In 10 years’ time, if you’re hapless adequate to get a serious bacterial infection, we competence good be marinated with a diagnosis that has come from this institute.”

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