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16 Jun 2016

New laboratory opened to step up fight against dengue

Dengue research in Melbourne has received a significant boost with the unveiling of a new laboratory that enables researchers to safely import, house and study mosquitos from outside Australia.

Two University of Melbourne research groups from the Doherty Institute and the Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute will utilise the insectary to further their dengue research, specifically their work looking at Wolbachia, a bacterium being investigated to control dengue.

Each year an estimated 390 million dengue infections occur worldwide, with 500,000 of these developing into dengue haemorrhagic fever, which results in up to 25,000 deaths a year.

University of Melbourne Professor Cameron Simmons, who leads a research team at the Doherty Institute, said the new insectary would be crucial to their work.

“We’re particularly interested in attenuated or weakened viruses that can be used as vaccine candidates. This facility allows us to test their safety in mosquito hosts,” Professor Simmons said.

“In a world where Zika is in the headlines almost everyday, the work we are doing around Wolbachia, understanding arboviruses, pathogenesis, making vaccines - this is going to be a great platform to do all these things.”

University of Melbourne Professor Ary Hoffmann from Bio21 collaborates with Professor Simmons, developing strategies to prevent and control dengue.

“It will allow us to test different viral strains in different mosquioes, as well as the effectiveness of different strains of Wolbachia in blocking the virus and controlling different species of mosquito,” he said.

Both Professor Simmons and Professor Hoffmann thanked Dr Kirsty McPherson (Doherty Institute) and Dr Nancy Endersby-Harshman (Bio21) for their work over the past two years in getting the insectary off the ground.

It was funded through the University of Melbourne to facilitate a collaborative NHMRC program grant that included the Hoffmann, Simmons and O’Neill (Monash University) groups, as well as interfacing the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust.