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Swedish-Chinese cooperation on health and the environment

31 January 2018

Two research projects at Uppsala University that are being conducted in collaboration with China have received grants from the Swedish Research Council. One of these projects deals with zoonoses (diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans) and the other with asthma and air pollution.

Åke Lundkvist, Professor of Microbiology, is conducting
research on zoonoses. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

Åke Lundkvist, Professor of Microbiology, is heading the project on zoonoses in collaboration with a national institute for the control and prevention of communicable diseases in China. The project aims to enhance knowledge on infectious agents transmitted from animals to humans and how environmental and climate changes affect the spread of infection.

“We need to be better at understanding and predicting future threatening infectious diseases spread by, for example, insects and rodents,” says Lundkvist.

The project has a clear “One Health” perspective, i.e. that the health of humans and the health of animals are interrelated. It examines diseases such as malaria, Zika and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), which are spread by insects and ticks, as well as how viruses and bacteria from rodents and bats can infect humans with Ebola, Lassa fever and tularaemia.

Centre for zoonoses

Lundkvist has been researching for a long time about organisms in animals that spread to humans, and is now working to build a centre for research on zoonoses, with a laboratory at BMC. The collaboration with China began in March and will continue for three years. The researchers will look for new infectious agents in both China and Sweden, in different environments and at different times, in order to determine how temperature variations and other changes in the environment come into play.

“For this, we will develop new methods for effectively identifying the genomes of bacteria and viruses, as well as antibodies against these in infected animals and humans,” says Lundkvist. “We will look for both unknown and known viruses and bacteria among bats, rodents, ticks and mosquitoes.”

Health effects of air pollution

Dan Norbäck, Docent in Occupational and Environ-
mental Medicine.

The second project is about health and air pollution in seven different cities in China, and is headed by Dan Norbäck, Docent in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

“I’ve been working with the health impact of air pollution in relation to China for 20 years,” says Norbäck, “so being awarded this grant is a wonderful recognition. “China is also investing heavily in research in this area.”

To examine the connection between air pollution and diseases such as asthma, rhinitis and eczema, two large survey studies will be conducted among preschool children and primary school pupils in seven cities in China. One of the studies is a follow-up of a study of preschool children conducted ten years ago, and the other study will follow illnesses, home environment and air pollution among lower primary school pupils over the course of two years.

Risk factors for children’s health

In the project, which is being conducted in collaboration with Fudan University, a more detailed study of school environments in Shanghai is also being planned to identify different risk factors for children’s health. Finally, two panel studies will be conducted, one in southern China and one in northern China, to study short-term effects of outdoor air pollution on the respiratory system.

“The project is highly relevant to public health work, as it covers the health effects of air pollution in China,” says Norbäck. “There have been improvements, not only outdoors but also in homes and schools,” says Norbäck. “But at the same time, nitrogen dioxide emissions from traffic are on the rise and air pollution levels are 3–5 times higher than in Sweden.”

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Facts:

The Swedish Research Council has granted a total of SEK 35.9 million to research projects in collaboration with China. Twelve projects were awarded grants and two of these are being conducted from Uppsala University.

  • ‘China-Sweden joint investigation on zoonotic pathogens in changing environment’ is directed by Åke Lundkvist in collaboration with the National Institute for Communicable Disease Control and Prevention in China and has been awarded a grant in the amount of SEK 3 million.

  • ‘Outdoor air pollution and indoor environment in homes and school in China’ is directed by Dan Norbäck in collaboration with Fudan University and has been awarded a grant in the amount of SEK 2.9 million.

Find out more:

Knowledge on animal-borne diseases in China and Sweden

Researchers study the connection between health and air pollution in China