Fellowship awarded to study dengue dynamics

1 May 2013

Zzzzzzz ZZZzzz ZZZZZZZ. Ahhh! Damn mosquito! We are all familiar with their piercing whine and have felt the itchy discomfort of their bite but for most of us, that is as bad as it gets. Yet for those living in northern Australia and South-East Asia a mosquito bite might also yield a dose of dengue virus.

Eric French Fellow, Dr Prasad Paradkar, is visiting the Viral Evolution laboratory
Eric French Fellow, Dr Prasad Paradkar, is visiting the Viral Evolution laboratory

Visitor to the School of Biological Sciences, Dr Prasad Paradkar (CSIRO), studies insect-transmitted v iruses, like dengue, in order to understand their emergence and transmission. "My current research is focused on arboviruses. That is, viruses transmitted by mosquitoes and other insects, including dengue and West Nile virus," explained Prasad. He has recently arrived at the University of Sydney on an Eric French Fellowship to learn specialised techniques with Professor Eddie Holmes.

"My six-week visit will involve training in and application of phylodynamic and phylogeographic methods to study the emerging dengue virus in South-East Asia," said Prasad. Dengue fever is globally the most prevalent mosquito-borne viral disease and it is increasing in distribution with more than one-third of the world's population at risk. "It is endemic in most parts of South-East Asia and sporadically epidemic in northern Australia," he explained. "Through this research I am aiming to identify dengue risk regions in South-East Asia and investigate and closely monitor viral lineages that pose the greatest threat to causing future epidemics."

As well as tackling dengue virus dynamics, Prasad's visit with Eddie Holmes will build on the collaboration between the School's Viral Evolution laboratory and the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory. "Professor Holmes is a world-renowned expert in the development and application of methods to understand viral emergence," Prasad said. "The skills and techniques in viral evolution and bioinformatics [that I gain] will be introduced into CSIRO for future studies on a wide range of viruses of public health and economic importance to Australia, including Murray Valley encephalitis, Ross River virus, West Nile virus, Kunjin virus and bluetoungue virus."

One of the approaches Prasad uses to understand viral transmission is to investigate the mosquito immune system. "My laboratory recently discovered a novel antiviral protein in mosquitoes and we are in the process of determining its significance during transmission of viruses." This mosquito-focused approach, coupled with his current training in viral phylodynamics and bioinformatics, will hopefully contribute to reducing the global impact of mosquito-transmitted dengue virus - even though it's unlikely to stop the itching.