$2.5 Million NIH Grant Boosts UF/IFAS Research On West Nile And Other Mosquito-Borne Diseases

Robin Koestoyo

Walter Tabachnick wjt@ifas.ufl.edu, 772-778-7200 ext. 124

VERO BEACH, Fla.—To reduce the spread of West Nile encephalitis and other mosquito-borne diseases, University of Florida medical entomologists are ramping up their research on dangerous insects and viruses with the help of a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“West Nile virus poses a very real risk for the nation, especially Florida, and a large epidemic with hundreds — or thousands — of cases is likely in the next five years” said Walter Tabachnick, director of UF’s Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach.

“The virus took the lives of six Floridians last year, and the number of cases reported in the state during the past two years exceeded 150,” he said. “Nationwide, there were nearly 10,000 cases reported.”

Tabachnick said a key objective of the research will be to identify and track mosquitoes that transmit encephalitis, malaria and other diseases, and determine how environmental conditions can increase the likelihood of an epidemic.

Leading the research effort will be Cynthia Lord, an associate professor, who will work with professors Jonathan Day, George O’Meara and Tabachnick, and Assistant Professor Roxanne Rutledge. The grant, for “Modeling and Empirical Studies of Arboviruses in Florida,” will support a five-year research project on arthropod-borne viruses at the Vero Beach lab, which is part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Lord said the research will help build an information base for the efficient dissemination of disease pathogen information to health organizations. County health units and mosquito control districts use information from the Vero Beach laboratory to inform and protect the public from mosquito-borne illnesses.

Tabachnick said the new model will enable scientists and health officials in each Florida county to better predict the presence of West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis, or other mosquito-borne pathogens in the environment. He said data gained from the information base will be vital to Florida public health and mosquito control agencies in their efforts to target high risk regions and reduce an outbreak before humans are infected.

“The grant brings needed resources to Florida for this important work,” Tabachnick said. “Recognized as one the leading research institutions of its kind in the world, the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory is one of the very few facilities capable of studying these pathogens in natural situations. Our faculty are recognized for multidisciplinary research on mosquitoes and mosquito-borne pathogens, employing state-of-the-art technology.”

He said the expanded research program will use theoretical, laboratory and field studies to provide information on Florida’s arboviruses to health organizations. The program will involve nearly 30 people, including 10 new employees.

“The fact that this NIH grant is being awarded to a research organization on the Treasure Coast is yet another example of the growing prominence of the scientific community in this part of the state,” Tabachnick said. “In fact, the growing role of research in our region of the state would not be possible without the support of the Florida Legislature, particularly Sen. Ken Pruitt.”

Tabachnick thanked Sen. Mike Haridopolos and Rep. Ralph Poppell for their support of a Community Budget Issue Request for nearly $800,000 in state funds for renovations at the laboratory. Tabachnick said that the new state funds, if budgeted, represent a needed investment to obtain additional federal support for research at the Vero Beach laboratory on arthropod borne diseases to protect Florida and the United States.

He also cited additional support for research at the Vero Beach laboratory from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which awarded previous grants for research on the West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis. Tabachnick said the partnership between the university and state agriculture department helped make the new NIH grant a reality.



Avatar photo
Posted: April 23, 2004

Category: UF/IFAS

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories