Project leader Professor Scott O'Neill, of The University of Queensland's School of Biological Sciences, this week welcomed the newly recruited research field team in Cairns at the opening of the international project's first office.
“This is a very exciting day for me and for the other 30 or so scientists and researchers working on our project around the world,” Professor O'Neill said. “We are marking another major milestone after 15 years of successful laboratory research. With the skills and experience of these field officers we can now take our research to the next stage. “We hope to provide a real solution to reduce the global burden of dengue fever.” In September, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority gave the project approval to proceed to field trials at Yorkeys Knob and Gordonvale near Cairns over the coming wet season. The “Eliminate Dengue” program aims to control dengue by stopping mosquitoes passing the virus to humans. Under the project, strains of the Wolbachia bacterium are introduced to the mosquito population, blocking virus transmission. The project is the first of its kind in the search for a permanent solution to dengue fever and is unique in that the method will be self-sustaining once established. The project's first field implementation team will be based at the new Grafton Street office in Cairns. They will work to suppress the wild mosquito population over the coming weeks before releasing the Wolbachia Aedes-aegypti from January 2011. The field team is led by Brian Montgomery, formerly of Queensland Health, and includes members from Brazil, Brisbane, Gordonvale and Yorkeys Knob. “The team's first task is to recruit project supporters from the field site areas,” Mr Montgomery said. “We are encouraging all residents of Yorkeys Knob and Gordonvale to call us on 1800 811 054 to register their support. “Only with the prior approval of householders will we enter yards to manually reduce the number of wild mosquitoes before we release the Wolbachia Aedes aegypti between January and March next year.” The objective of the 2011 field trial is to determine how well the Wolbachia bacteria establishes within the wild mosquito population. “Eliminate Dengue” is an international collaboration involving research institutions in Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, USA and Brazil. The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health is funding the project as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's “Grand Challenges in Global Health” initiative. The Queensland and Australian governments also have contributed funding. If the Cairns trials are successful, the researchers hope to repeat the trials at a large field site in Vietnam towards the end of 2011. The project team can be contacted on 1800 811 054 any time, or through its office at Suite 11, 36 Grafton Street, Cairns. More details are on the project website at www.eliminatedengue.com Media: Tracey Franchi, UQ School of Biological Sciences, ph +61 7 336 54831, or for the project team, Helen Cook, 0439 878070