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Queensland researchers unite to fight Zika

Kick-starter funding of $50,000 has helped unite Brisbane-based researchers in the battle against Zika virus.

Researchers at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the University of Queensland are using a $50,000 grant from the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre to develop new weapons against the devastating virus.

Zika virus is currently circulating in Latin America, Asia and the Pacific. Usually a mild disease in adults, infection during pregnancy causes microcephaly in some babies.

The head of QIMR Berghofer’s Mosquito Control Laboratory, Associate Professor Greg Devine, said the institute was well placed to conduct research into Zika virus in its state-of-the-art, quarantine facilities.

“We will assess how good Australian mosquito populations are at transmitting a variety of strains of Zika virus under different climate conditions,” Associate Professor Devine said.

“We will also look at how the virus interacts with the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus, which is currently implicated in an outbreak of dengue fever in the Torres Strait.”

Associate Professor Devine is working with QIMR Berghofer’s infectious diseases expert Professor Andreas Suhriber, as well as the head of the UQ School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, Professor Paul Young, and fellow virologists Professor Alexander Khromykh, Professor Roy Hall and Dr Helle Bielefeldt-Ohmann from the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre and the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.

Professor Young said QIMR Berghofer and UQ were contributing to international efforts to deal with the epidemic sweeping through South American countries and threatening to spread further.

“This timely funding will help build our local collaboration,” Professor Young said.

The researchers have a solid track record in developing diagnostic tests, antiviral drugs and vaccines against other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, West Nile and Chikungunya.

Professor Young said the team was working to develop rapid and portable laboratory tests to detect Zika infection in people returning to Australia from Zika outbreak areas, and to monitor local mosquitoes for the virus.

“We are also using technologies developed at UQ in work to produce a new generation of diagnostics, vaccines and antiviral drugs against Zika virus,” he said.

“Our combined expertise in mosquito-borne viruses gives us a distinct advantage in teasing out the events that lead to foetal abnormalities when women are infected early in their pregnancy.”

The QIMR Berghofer and UQ researchers are also collaborating with researchers from Queensland Health, the University of the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane’s Mater Research Institute.