The UK’s Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire is to become the first and only place in Europe to analyse serious viruses, the results of which will be used to create new therapies to treat viral disease.

Those viruses requiring Containment Level 3 – including AIDS, hepatitis and some types of flu – will be analysed at atomic and molecular level using the synchrotron light facility and at the new lab known as Crystal. The special light allows scientists to study virus structures at intense levels of detail, which can help develop new treatments and vaccines.

Professor Dave Stuart, life sciences director at Diamond Light Source and professor of structural biology at Oxford University, said: “Crystal provides unique facilities in Europe for the study of serious viruses. Nowhere in the world can structures be so readily solved with the speed and efficiency that is now available at Diamond. This is great news for the research community, as the facility will be a resource with the potential to provide new pathways for treatment.”

Diamond, which is the only facility of its kind in Europe and one of only two in the world, already has a strong track record of studying viruses at lower levels of containment, including Human Enterovirus71, which causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease.  

Dr Katherine McAuley, science leader for the facility, said: “Crystal is a major advance, not just for the UK, but for Europe at large. The unique capabilities that the facility offers are expected to draw scientists from around the world, and establish the nation’s synchrotron as a hub of world-leading research into disease prevention.”