2013 Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research

A vaccine for mosquitoes – saving them and us from dengue.

Dengue is on the march and threatening the growing populations of Asia and even northern Australia. A ‘vaccine’ for mosquitoes could stop it in its tracks. 

Prior to 1970 only nine countries had had epidemics. Today it is common in more than 100 countries. With climate change it could spread further. There are no effective vaccines or drugs. Our only method of control is to stop the mozzies.

A team of researchers from Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns and Brazil are changing that. They found a bacterium— Wolbachia—in fruit flies that could stop mosquitoes from spreading dengue. In field trials in Cairns they showed that Wolbachia quickly spread through the mosquito population and that a year after the start of the trial 80 to 100 per cent of the mosquitoes in the area couldn’t spread dengue.

For their breakthrough in insect-borne disease control the Eliminate Dengue team, led by Professor Scott O’Neill from Monash University, have won the 2013 Australian Museum Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research for their work on successfully infecting dengue-carrying mosquitoes with a naturally occurring bacterium that stops the development of the deadly disease.

The prize winning team includes: Professor Ary Hoffmann, University of Melbourne; Professor Scott Ritchie, James Cook University; Dr Elizabeth McGraw, Monash University; Dr Luciano Moreira, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation; and Professor Brian Kay, Queensland Institute of Medical Research. 

“This work is a potential game-changer in the battle against dengue and other insect-borne diseases,” the Director of the Australian Museum, Frank Howarth said.

“Professor O’Neill’s team has found a way to stop the spread of a problem that affects millions of people and farm animals worldwide—and reduce our dependence on insecticides.”

The two other finalists in the category achieved significant success in research into human immune cells, and viruses carried by bats.

A team comprising Dr Thomas Gebhardt, Dr Scott Mueller and Dr Laura Mackay of the University of Melbourne was nominated for its discovery of a new type of immune cell that could revolutionise the development of vaccines.

The CSIRO Emerging Bat Virology team, led by Professor Linfa Wang, was nominated for its work on identifying bat-borne pathogens with the potential to create human pandemics.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership and commercialisation, science journalism and communication, and school science. This year the 17 sponsored prizes include awards for agriculture, defence and innovative use of technology.

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Kea Lambert , Project Officer, Eureka Prizes
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