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UCD lab receives two major grants to study dengue

UC Davis’ world-class dengue research program has received two new research grants totaling nearly $10 million to study the mosquito-borne, viral illness that infects 400 million people worldwide each year.

The grants, $7.5 million from the National Institutes of Health and $2.2 million from Notre Dame University, will help fund the program for the next five years, said professor Thomas Scott of the department of entomology and nematology. Scott is director of the Mosquito Research Program and the principal investigator of the dengue research program.

“There is no vaccine nor drug that is effective against this virus,” said Scott, who has studied dengue more than 25 years and is recognized as the leading expert in the ecology and epidemiology of the disease.

Dengue virus is an emerging pathogen that has been spreading globally over the last four decades, including parts of United States. Troublingly statistics show that more than half of the world’s population is now at risk of infection and the severe, life-threatening disease has increased considerably.

Dengue virus is transmitted by Aedes aegypti, a mosquito that bites during the daytime as people move about in their daily routines.

While vaccines are under development, it is not clear how they can be best applied when they are available, including in combination with other interventions like mosquito control, Scott said.

“New disease prevention tools, in addition to vaccines, and an improved understanding of virus transmission dynamics, which will enhance surveillance and epidemic response, are needed to reduce the global burden of dengue,” he said.

Scott is the principal investigator of both grants. Amy Morrison, also of the department of entomology and nematology, co-leads the projects from the Amazonian city of Iquitos, Peru, where she directs their long-running UCD epidemiological field research program in collaboration with the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit 6, Lima, Peru.

Other UCD participants are Steven Stoddard, Robert C. Reiner, T. Alex Perkins, Veronica Armijos, Sandra Olkowski, Jody Simpson and Christopher Barker.

The five-year project is slated to begin in Iquitos later this year. In addition to Scott and Morrison, the leadership team includes Steven Stoddard of UCD, John Elder of San Diego State University, Alan Rothman of the University of Rhode Island and Uriel Kitron and Gonzalo Vasquez Prokopec of Emory University.

Kathy Keatley Garvey

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