Investigating the genetic blueprint of disease-causing meningitis bacteria in the meningitis belt

Using cutting edge technology to study the genetic blueprint of bacteria collected from patients with meningococcal meningitis in the meningitis belt from 2011 to 2018.
Prof Dominique Caugant, Dr Xin Wang, Dr Muhamed-Kheir Taha
Start Date
01 Jul 2017
Prevention and treatment
Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, USA, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France


The meningitis belt countries of sub-Saharan Africa have been repeatedly devastated by overwhelming meningitis epidemics since the early 1900’s.

Fortunately, since the development of an affordable MenA vaccine in 2010, over 265 million people living in the meningitis belt have been protected against meningococcal A meningitis (MenA) – formerly the main cause of outbreaks.

But the dramatic decline in cases of MenA leaves a lot of unanswered questions about how the picture of meningitis and septicaemia is changing in the meningitis belt - an area where more people are affected by this deadly disease than anywhere else in the world.

To improve disease control, alongside another new MRF project that is investigating meningitis bacteria that are carried and spread within African communities, we need to understand what strains of bacteria are causing disease.

About the project

This project will use next generation sequencing, a cutting edge form of whole genome sequencing, to study the genetic blueprint of bacteria collected from patients with meningococcal meningitis in meningitis belt countries from 2011 to 2018. The study will be performed by researchers from the three World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centers for Reference and Research on Meningitis. WHO Collaborating Centers are selected on the basis of outstanding expertise to assist countries in need of support.

This study will provide important information on:

  • Whether the bacteria circulating across countries of the meningitis belt are more able to invade the body and cause disease than bacteria found elsewhere in the world
  • Whether these African strains have genetic links to bacteria found elsewhere
  • Whether who is at risk of contracting disease varies according to the bacterial strain

What will this achieve?

The MRF-Meningococcal Genome Library (MRF-MGL) is an invaluable resource for the scientific and public health community, providing access to whole genome sequences for an entire epidemiologic year. Currently containing more than 3000 genomes, the MRF-MGL is an open access, online resource established to make a lasting contribution to the advancement of meningitis research.

This study will add 800 genomes to MRF-MGL Africa, making them available to the world-wide scientific community. The results from this study will ultimately improve disease control by enabling experts across the globe to predict meningitis outbreaks at an earlier stage. This vital information will help ministries of health and policy makers, both within countries and internationally, to make vaccine decisions that maximise public health improvement.

Since the charity was founded in 1989, we have awarded 161 research grants. The total value of our investment in vital scientific research is over £19.1 million (€24.7 million).
We take action that benefits people directly, including training health professionals and providing support and information services.
We call for positive change as a united voice against meningitis and septicaemia, and a dedicated champion for those it affects.
We've invested nearly £20 million into meningitis research since 1989. Now, we're looking back at our most incredible achievements so far.
Give researchers the clues to help defeat meningitis
Give researchers the clues to help defeat meningitis
£160/€190/$214 decodes the genetic information in a sample of meningococcal bacteria. This information helps us to track new forms of meningitis and campaign to introduce new vaccines.
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Liz Rodgers
Research Officer

Hi, I’m Liz and I’m MRF's Research Officer.

If you’d like to know more about this area of MRF's work, do get in touch.

Tel: 0333 405 6258