The large-scale European Infravec2 project is to receive 10 million euros in European subsidies to fight insect-transmitted diseases such as Zika and malaria. The research will be conducted by an international consortium of 24 partner institutions and will be coordinated by the Institut Pasteur in Paris. The Dutch contributors to the project are Wageningen University & Research and the Radboud university medical center. The project kick-off meeting will take place on 15 March in Paris.
Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and other insects represent a major public health concern worldwide. The most well-known are viral infections such as dengue, Zika and yellow fever as well as parasitic diseases such as malaria and river blindness. Contrary to popular belief, these diseases are not limited to tropical regions. They are also spreading into Europe and will not simply go away. We therefore need to actively fight the diseases and the insects that transmit them.
Global climate change has allowed disease-transmitting insects such as the Asian tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus to spread northwards and settle in southern Europe. Increased global human mobility, including that of infected people, has also contributed to the mounting risk, and allows the pathogens to adapt to European environments. Insects can also transmit animal diseases – well-known examples being the large outbreaks of bluetongue and the Schmallenberg virus in cattle. These diseases cause large economic losses. Insects that feed on the blood of wild animals as well as on people can also contribute to the transmission of new pathogens from animals to humans.
Infravec2’s main aim is to link together research facilities in Europe, making it easier for researchers and companies to share knowledge and research materials. Wageningen University & Research will open the doors of its Biosafety Level 3 lab (BSL-3) for research into the behaviour of infected mosquitos. ‘In Wageningen, we can expose mosquitos to viruses such as Zika and chikungunya in a safe environment. We examine whether these mosquitos are really able to transmit viruses and, once infected, the effect that it has on their behaviour.’ This requires expertise in both virology and entomology. The BSL-3 laboratory combines both research fields, making it unique in the Netherlands, says Sander Koenraadt, assistant professor of Entomology.
The Radboud university medical center has the largest breeding facility for malaria-infected mosquitos in Europe and is therefore an important research resource for the Infravec2 project. The Radboud university medical center also contributes to research into the transmission of viruses such as dengue and Zika by Aedes mosquito species. ‘Through this strong European network, we hope to make a significant contribution to the improved control of insect-transmitted diseases,’ says Robert Sauerwein, professor of Medical Parasitology at the Radboud university medical center.
The Infravec2 project is a large research programme that combines expertise from virology and entomology to analyse the behaviour of infected mosquitos.
In the coming years, Wageningen University & Research will also work for the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) to answer the question ‘Can Dutch mosquito species transmit Zika?’ and focus on understanding the Zika outbreak as part of the H2020 project ZIKAlliance.