Award-winning work to stop the spread of dengue fever | Pacific Beat

Award-winning work to stop the spread of dengue fever

Award-winning work to stop the spread of dengue fever

Updated 6 September 2013, 11:44 AEST

If you have ever suffered with dengue fever or chikungunya there's good news on the horizon.

A team of researchers have discovered a way to potentially stop the spread of both illnesses.

Their work has been recognised by winning the Eureka award one of Australia's top science awards.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Professor Scott O'Neill from Monash University

O'NEILL: We won the award in the Infectious Diseases Category, based on our work around Dengue Fever and a new way to prevention transmission of the disease.
COUTTS: And what is that new way?
O'NEILL: Ah, well dengue's a virus disease that's transmitted between people by one particular mosquito, and our work has been focused on how we might be able to prevent transmission from occurring in the mosquito and we do that by introducing a naturally-occurring bacterium into mosquito populations and when the mosquitoes carry this bacterium, it interferes with the ability of the dengue virus to grow in their bodies and if it can't grow in the mosquito body, then it can't be transmitted between people.
COUTTS: And so is this an effective vaccine now?
O'NEILL: Well, in a way it sort of acts like a vaccine for mosquito, it's not for people, if you like to think of it that way. It's really a biological control approach for how we might be able to prevent dengue transmission. It sort a bit like a vaccine, for mosquitoes.
COUTTS: And is it sterilisation?
O'NEILL: No, it's not sterilisation, it's just about stopping the virus from growing in the mosquitoes body and if the virus can't grow in the body of the mosquito, it can't be transmitted between people
COUTTS: Is this just for dengue?
O'NEILL: Interestingly, it seems to work for other infections as well, so the mosquito that transmits dengue, also transmits a number of other viruses, including yellow fever and chikungunya is one that's on peoples minds at the moment in the Asian region, and we find that it works against other viruses as well.
COUTTS: Any advances can be used to combat malaria as well?
O'NEILL: Yes, it's a lot of work going on, not so much in our group, but in other groups around world, particularly some American groups at the moment that's showing that the same approach can have a potential impact against malaria as well.
COUTTS: Professor, how confident are you that this will actually work in the way that want to and what I'm asking is will it wipe it out chikungunya, dengue fever and all those sorts of illnesses?
O'NEILL: Hmm, it's still much to early to know whether it might wipe it out, but we're at a stage now where we've progressed into field trials, in northern Australia and also now in Indonesia and Vietnam. And in those trials we've been able to chart so far that we can deploy it and that it's sustainable and that it's a sustained reduction in mosquitoes ability to transmit viruses. In the next three years we'll move to quite large field trials, which through those large field trials, in a number of countries, we should be able to get a measure of what impact we're having on dengue disease and if that impact is very large, which we hope it will be, then it may have a significant impact on the disease.
COUTTS: Now, you've worked in conjunction with a number of people and I read somewhere along the line, that includes Brazil?
O'NEILL: That's right. So we're working as a large consortium of scientists. It's being led from Monash University in Australia. It has a number of other Australian institutions involved, and then a number of international organisations also are working with us, including field crews in Brazil.
COUTTS: So once the trials are all completed, what's left for you to do?
O'NEILL: Ah, well we still have a lot of work to do in the course of these trials. Over the next three years, we should get an indication of just what sort of impact we're having and from there, we would be moving towards working out the best ways to implement this across a broad scale in different countries around the world where dengue is a major problem.
COUTTS: And if you are able to wipe this particular mosquito that causes the dengue fever and chikungunya problem. Does that mean that it probably won't be necessarily to do the next step and get a vaccine and vaccinate people against it? 
O'NEILL; I think that we shouldn't put too much reliance on any one method. I think in the long run, we're better to have an arsenal of different approaches that might through different methods be able to approach controlling something like dengue and so vaccine development will continue and I think this method will work very well in conjunction with vaccine as well as insecticide treatments for mosquitoes and other methods people currently use.

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