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Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

WHO Collaborating Centre for Lymphatic Filariasis, Soil-Transmitted Helminths and Other Neglected Tropical Diseases

This project supports the countries of the Asia-Pacific region in transmission, epidemiology, mapping, monitoring, surveillance, diagnostics, and control programmes for neglected tropical diseases, particularly lymphatic filariasis and soil transmitted helminths.  The centre also conducts research on new tools, diagnostics and methods for assessing and accelerating the progress towards reducing transmission and achieving disease elimination, as well as identifying and implementing improved strategies for prevention and alleviation of morbidity and disability resulting from these neglected diseases.

Researchers: Patricia Graves, Susan Gordon, Luke Becker, Jan Douglass, Lynne Zeldenryk

Program: Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

Environmental persistence of Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP) in northern Queensland

The detection of Bovine Johne’s disease in Queensland cattle in 2012 triggered a statewide disease control and management plan for beef grazing enterprises.  To date, studies on the causative agent (MAP) in Australia are confined to wet temperate environments in southern Australia and no work has been done to examine epidemiological aspects of this disease in the dry tropics.  This study will assess the viability of MAP shed onto paddocks and aggregation points in tropical beef grazing environments.  In addition, the capacity for environmental mycobacteria to contribute to false positive responses with the high-throughput Realtime PCR test based upon IS900 sequences will be investigated.  The aims are to evaluate environmental factors affecting survivability of the causative organism and to assess the specificity of tests used in determining the disease status of herds.

Researchers: Wayne Hein, Robert Hedlefs, Jackie Picard, Orachun Hayakijkosol

Program: Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

Evaluation of Novel Malaria Control Strategies in the Solomon Inlands

Malaria is transmitted in the Solomon Islands by Anopheles farauti. This mosquito feeds predominately on humans and bites early in the evening and out doors, thereby minimizing the effectiveness of long-lasting insecticide treated nets and indoor residual sprays.  With the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, James Cook University is working with the Ministry of Health, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Queensland and the Army Malaria Institute to evaluate novel interventions that will kill the vector outside houses based on analyses of data on the vector’s behaviour.


Tom Burkot and Tanya Russell, James Cook University
Frank Collins and Neil Lobo, University of Notre Dame
Nigel Beebe, University of Queensland
Robert Cooper, Australian Army Malaria Institute
Hugo Bobogare, Solomon Islands National Malaria Control Programme

Program: Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

The Vector Ecology and Control Network (VECNet)

To support the global malaria elimination effort, VECNet, with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is constructing a digital library and analytic framework to allow researches, national malaria control programs, product developers and policy makers to access all entomological, epidemiological, climatic, demographic and health facility data.  VECNet will also facilitate the use of these temporal and spatially explicit data to evaluate the impacts of interventions and combinations of interventions on malaria transmission by multiple mathematical models through a user-friendly web portal. Presently, VECNet is analyzing malaria transmission and its control in Kenya, Mozambique, and the Solomon Islands.


Tom Burkot, Michelle Barker and Tanya Russell, James Cook University
Frank Collins, Greg Madey and Natalie Meyers, University of Notre Dame
Simon Hay, Marianne Sinka and Catherine Moyes, University of Oxford
Bruce Lee, University of Pittsburgh
Tom Smith, Nicholas Maire, Nakul Chitnis, Swiss Tropical Public Health Institute
Phil Eckhoff and Robert Hart, Intellectual Ventures
Robert Farlow, Robert Farlow LLC

Program: Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

Virulence mechanisms of the frog-killing fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis

The greatest loss of vertebrate biodiversity from disease is due to the fatal amphibian chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which has caused over 90 species extinctions in the past 30 years. While Bd is highly pathogenic, the mechanisms of virulence and infection are not known. We are using genetic, proteomic, metabolomic and microbiological tools to understand how the fungus kills frogs. Specifically, this project focuses on isolating and characterising Bd virulence factors, including proteins and metabolites that cause amphibian immunosuppression and epidermal damage. Understanding Bd virulence has implications for pathogen control, protecting biodiversity and the discovery of novel drug targets.

Researchers: Alex Roberts, Lee Berger, Lee Skerratt, Rebecca Webb

Program: Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity; Host/Pathogen Interactions

The Molecular Epidemiology, Ecology and Diagnosis of Melioidosis and Tuberculosis

Melioidosis is the leading cause of fatal, bacterial, community acquired pneumonia in the tropics. The major host risk factor of acquisition the and development of the disease is a close association with the environmental reservoir of the saprobic bacterium Burkhodleria pseudomallei . The incidence of disease is spatial and clustered temporally and linked to the prevalence of the organism in the environment. Work is ongoing to describe the factors that limit dispersal and enable environmental persistence of B. pseudomallei and therefore understand better the ecology and biogeography of this enigmatic disease.

Multi drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is a recognised disease burden in PNG. The prevalence of MDR-TB in the Western province (WP) along with the traditional migration of PNG nationals into the Torres Strait, create a significant public health problem for Australia. Poor treatment compliance and inappropriate use of diagnostics drives resistance. The aims of our project are to: (1) validate rural TB diagnostics; (2) determine MDR-TB burden; (3) establish and test fundamental tools of molecular characterisation of TB for diagnostic and epidemiological application; and (4) survey and assess factors of treatment delivery and patient compliance that drive resistance.

Researchers: Jeff Warner, Marshall Fetrel, Miila Gena, Rosemary Simbul, Riana Scott, Noppadol Prasertsincharoen, Donald Tahani, William Davies

Program: Epidemiololgy, Transmission and Biosecurity

Optimisation of Wolbachia-Based Strategies to Control Dengue

Emerging aegypti
Emerging aegypti
Infection of the dengue vector Aedes aegypti with the bacterium, wolbachia, has been shown to reduce dengue infection rates in the mosquito, potentially blocking dengue transmission.  Furthermore, Wolbachia is maternally transmitted, spreading as mosquitoes mate, and has persisted in populations for at least 3 wet seasons.  James Cook University provides Wolbachia-infected Aedes aegypti for release in open field release in North Queensland. This project is largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and the NHRC Asia-Pacific Dengue Centre (Centre of Research Excellence).

Researchers: Scott Ritchie (with collaborators: Scott O’Neill, Monash University; Ary Hoffmann, University of Melbourne)

Program: Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

The Ecology and Evolution of Wolbachia-Infected Aedes aegypti in North Queensland

Emerging aegypti
Emerging aegypti
The wMel strain of Wolbachia has been established in local populations of Ae. aegypti since 2011.  We have just initiated studies to investigate how Ae. aegypti respond to Wolbachia infections over time.  It would also involve studies into the use of virulent Wolbachia strains to locally eliminate populations of Ae. aegypti.

Researchers: Scott Ritchie (with collaborator, Ary Hoffmann, University of Melbourne)

Program: Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

Initiation of Novel Traps to Monitor and Control Dengue Mosquitoes and to Monitor Arboviruses

We have developed a new Gravid Aedes Trap (GAT) that has potential applications for surveillance of arboviruses, vectors and Wolbachia infections.  The GAT could become the gold standard of dengue vector surveillance. This projects uses but does not fund a 0.5 RA and a visiting researcher from UFMG.  We also have developed a baited card system for rapid, simple surveillance of mosquito-borne pathogens to replace sentinel animals for mosquito-borne disease pathogen surveillance.

Researchers: Scott Ritchie (with collaborators: Andrew van den Hurk, University of Queensland and Qld Health; Alvaro Eiras, Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil)

Program: Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

Role of the Asian Tiger Mosquito in Dengue and Chikungunya Transmission in the Western Pacific and Torres Strait

We have initiated studies of the role of Aedes albopictus (Asian Tiger Mosquito) in the Torres Strait and the Solomon Islands.  This invasive mosquito is a significant vector of dengue and the new rapid strain of chikungunya virus that is spreading in the Asia-Pacific region.  It also threatens to invade the Australian mainland and become established in our coastal urban centers.  We have initiated studies to define the vector of dengue during the current epidemic of dengue in the Solomon Is.  We are also conducting ecological studies of Ae. albopictus In the Torres Strait towards a potential use of a Wolbachia strategy to reduce the vector potential of this mosquito.

Researchers: Scott Ritchie, Tom Burkot (with collaborators: Andrew van den Hurk (University of Queensland and Qld Health; Steve Sinkins, University of Oxford)

Program: Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

Veterinary Tropical Diseases and Food Biosecurity

Our group is interested in topical veterinary epidemiology and we study diseases of animals in tropical regions of the world.  We are a multidisciplinary, multiinstitutional and multinational group with unique expertise ideally positioned to work in tropical regions of the world.  Our current focal area is tropical diseases of horses in particular, which has not been well researched in the past but which has become of increasing importance with the emergence of viral equine diseases of public health importance. We have equine projects running in Australia, South Africa and Thailand.  Our group is also looking at biosecurity issues in the pacific Island region and Southern Africa and we are engaged in developing syndromic surveillance platforms in Papa New Guinea and food security platforms in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papa New Guinea. In Africa we are looking issues related to the effect of global warming on vector movement in subtropical regions and sociological factors that play a role in disease surveillance.  The veterinary public health component of the group is looking at diseases carried by native and non-native rodents in the Tableland region of Northern Queensland.

Researchers (Australia):—  Bruce Gummow,—  Jeff Warner,—  Robert Hedlefs,—  Glen Kennelly,—  Leo Foyle,—  Elizabeth Parker,—  Rachel Tan,—  Andrew Tukana,—  Aurelie Brioudes

International Partners: SPC (Fiji), NAQIA, NARI, DAL/LDA, UNITECH (PNG), Ministry of Agriculture & Livestock (Solomon Isladns), Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries & Biosecurity (Vanuatu), Dr. Noluvuyo Magadla - GDARD, Veterinary Services (South Africa)

Program:  Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

Supramolecular and Synthetic Biology Applications for Infectious Disease Diagnostics and Drug Development

Burkholderia 2
Burkholderia. Image by Jeff Warner
Functional and structural characterisation of proteins, in particular protein–ligand interactions, is a powerful approach for the development of new diagnostics and drugs for infectious diseases. We are interested in proteins that are involved in: the DNA replication proteins of the causative agent of melioidosis, Burkholderia pseudomallei; the nucleoprotein from influenza; the replisomal proteins of the Dengue virus; the E. coli biotin ligase and terminator protein Tus. We have validated development of innovative high-throughput assays using the principle of differential fluorescence scanning of GFP-tagged proteins (DSF-GTP) and other promising techniques for various drug targets of melioidosis, influenza and dengue. We have also adapted the TT-lock Immuno-PCR technology for the diagnosis of melioidosis as well as a sensitive assay to detect the presence of the influenza nucleoprotein.


Researchers: Patrick Schaeffer, Alanna Sorenson

Program:  Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

A One Health Approach to Wildlife Diseases

Common mistfrog
Litoria rheocola (Common mistfrog), Queensland rainforest, declined due to chytridiomycosis. Photo: Lee Skerratt
Our research group investigates the causes and control of infectious diseases in wildlife that impact biodiversity, human health and domestic animal health.  Infectious diseases of wildlife are becoming increasingly important as globalisation and environmental change are causing them to emerge and re-emerge. We use a multidisciplinary approach to provide holistic solutions to mitigate their impact. Our current research includes determining ways to improve the control of transmission of Hendra virus from flying foxes into horses and humans, assessing the risk of spill over of wild dog zoonoses and determining the importance of disease in the conservation of the endangered Proserpine rock wallaby and the vulnerable spectacled flying fox. Recent work includes investigating the causes of avian influenza and Newcastle disease in waterfowl in northern Australia, both these diseases sporadically spill over into poultry.

Researchers: Lee Skerratt, Lee Berger, Sara Bell, Alex Roberts, Gerardo Martin, Diana Mendez, Felicity Smout, Karen Wilson, Carol Esson

Program: Epidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity

Eradicate Insect-borne Diseases with Light

Insect bites from mosquitos or sand-flies are widespread in the Tropics and cause diseases such as dengue, Ross-river fever or malaria. The Eradicate Insect-borne Diseases with Light activities cover prophylaxis, treatment as well as cure. Following the ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach the group is producing potent natural insect repellents. At present, N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) is used as the most common, ‘artificial’ insect repellent, but it is an irritant, unpleasant in smell, expensive to manufacture and known to damage surfaces and fabrics. Using tropical essential oils, the group is furthermore developing products that comprise of natural repellents with floral odours and anti-inflammatory properties. For the treatment of insect bites, the team is producing anesthetics with reported activity levels higher of that of lidocaine, a widely used local anesthetic. The multi-step process is realized in a continuous-flow operation without any isolation or purification of intermediates, thus allowing for on-site and on-demand synthesis. The synthesis of antimalarials from natural compounds is likewise investigated using artificial and natural sunlight. In particular, the team is developing continuous-flow photoreactors for the on-site and on-demand manufacturing of the current frontline antimalarial, artemisinin. The activities or the group are supported by the Clinton Health Access Initiative and the Far North-Queensland Hospital Foundation.

ResearchersMichael Oelgemoeller 

ProgramEpidemiology, Transmission and Biosecurity