AITHM James Cook University

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ABOUT

Our highly collaborative multi-disciplinary research group aims to improve vector surveillance and stop transmission of malaria, dengue, Zika and chikungunya globally and with a focus in the Asia-Pacific. Our primary focus on understanding mosquito-borne disease transmission systems, which comprises the interactions between the mosquito vectors, disease pathogens, human hosts and the environment. By characterizing this complex system, our research can be extended to improve vector control programs to eliminate disease transmission.

Our activities range from basic applied research conducted on campus at JCU, through to field based studies focused on understanding the vectors and associated transmission systems, and then translation into policy guidance. The Group is based at the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, on the Cairns campus of James Cook University. Here the facilities include state-of-the-art insectaries, PC2 laboratories and the Mosquito Research Facility (large semi-field structure). Our team conducts field work across the globe including countries in Australia, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. 

RESEARCH THEMES

  • Understanding the ecology and behaviours of insect vectors of human diseases
  • The underlying broad-scale ecological process influencing malaria and dengue transmission
  • Support evidence-based control of malaria and dengue vectors
  • To improve vector surveillance systems in malaria endemic countries

RESEARCH PROJECTS

Building capacity for evidence based sustainable vector surveillance and control in the Pacific

The Mosquito-Borne Diseases Group is leading a consortium of 11 institutions to enable more effective arbovirus and malaria vector surveillance in up to 12 Pacific island countries. The program will drive sustainable improvements in vector surveillance and control programs that will have broad impacts to improve regional health security. Activities will focus on building capacity to implement vector surveillance based on World Health Organisation recommendations. The consortium will strengthen existing networks to facilitate in-country and regional communication. A major outcome will be practical and actionable strategic plans developed by Pacific island countries to enable sustainable surveillance to enable more proactive responses to contain outbreaks.

Key collaborators: World Health Organization, Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research, Queensland Institute of Medical Research-Berghofer, Beyond Essential Systems, University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, The Burnet Institute, Australian Red Cross, Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network, Australian Defence Force Malaria and Infectious Disease Institute.

Funder: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


Evaluating zoonotic malaria transmission and agricultural land use in Indonesia (ZOOMAL)

Infection of humans with the monkey malaria parasite, Plasmodium knowlesi, is a serious and increasing problem across Southeast Asia. However little is known about the geographical extent and factors influencing transmission risk in Indonesia. This project will evaluate the risk of human infection with P. knowlesi malaria with different ecotypes and land use including agricultural activities in Indonesia. The burden of zoonotic malaria and transmission risk will be evaluated against land use factors, human activities, monkey and mosquito distributions. These activities will strengthen the ability of the national public health system to detect zoonotic malaria infections and to inform best-practice malaria control based on understanding the ecology and epidemiology of the vectors, monkey reservoirs and human host. This will, in turn, facilitate growth of the agricultural sector through a reduced burden of disease.

Project leader: Menzies School of Health Research

Key collaborators: Universitas Sumatera Utara, Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology, Eijkman-Oxford Clinical Research Unit, University of Melbourne, University of Western Australia, CSIRO

Funder: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)


Strategies to prevent two viruses devaluing Australian crocodile skins

We are monitoring mosquito borne viruses which potentially can infect crocodiles and damage their skins, resulting in losses to the economic value of the animals. JCU Cairns sets mosquito traps and monitors virus infections at a crocodile farm near Cairns. Additionally this group provides trapping technology to be used at a farm near Darwin in order to better understand the natural history of the viruses and the risk they pose to the crocodile industry.

Funder: Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia


Technology Identification to Optimize Malaria Vector Surveillance

The proposed investment will undertake an analysis of vector surveillance in priority elimination programs against recommended surveillance practices. This analysis will include evaluations of data, programmatic capacity and technical attributes of the surveillance systems currently in use by NMCPs of selected countries. This assessment will identify gaps/limitations and constraints that impede present surveillance programs from achieving the implementation of best practices.

Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


JCU Mosquito Trap Development

We are designing and internationally validating low cost mosquito traps for the surveillance of male Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, vectors of the viruses causing diseases such as dengue and Zika. These traps use electrical components engineered by Verily Life Sciences, a for profit Google affiliate who fund this research.

Funder: Verily Life Sciences


Protecting North Queensland from the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), an exotic dengue vector

Aedes albopictus, a documented vector of dengue, Zika and chikungunya, is one of the fastest spreading invasive species worldwide, and was first detected in the Torres Strait in 2005. The first purpose of this research is to investigate the ecology, distribution and dispersal of Aedes albopictus on islands within the Torres Strait. Secondly, this project will lay the foundation required to assess the feasibility of Attractive Targeted Sugar Baits (ATSB) to control Aedes albopictus. The research will determine the frequency that mosquitoes sugar feed, a parameter critical to the success of ATSBs. This pilot data will be leveraged for funding to trial the use of ATSBs to control and potentially eliminate Ae. albopictus from the Torres Strait.

Funders: Far North Queensland Hospital Foundation and Tropical Australian Academic Health Centre


OUR TEAM

Dr Kyran Staunton

Research Fellow

Mrs Sally McDonald

Administrative Officer

Mr Tom Swan

PhD Student

Mr Boni Sebayang

Masters Student

Mr Bram van de Straat

PhD Student

Mr Mick Townsend

Research Assistant


FUNDING PARTNERS

We are grateful for the commitment of all our funders, who enable us to undertake much needed research to improve the surveillance and control of malaria and arboviruses.


COLLABORATING PARTNERS

Our research program is highly collaborative and would not be possible without the commitment and support of our many research partners.