Dealing with disease

Many of the devastating human diseases either evolved first in other animals (e.g. HIV, Ebola, and SARS) or non-human animals also act as their hosts (e.g. malaria, dengue fever, and Ross river virus). Diseases such as these affect tens of millions of humans around the world annually and contribute substantially to human mortality. Ultimately human disease is both a biological and medical problem but almost everything we know about how diseases evolve comes from biological research. Thus a biological perspective on disease, and disease-causing agents can provide powerful insights into how diseases arise and more critically how they might be managed or eradicated.

For example, researchers in the School of BioSciences, have discovered that female mosquitos infected with a type of bacteria called Wolbachia do not pass on the Dengue virus and when they mate with males not infected with Wolbachia they produce no offspring. This has led to a successful Wolbachia biological control program in several countries (including Australia) and has resulted in suppression of mosquito populations and the effective immunization of mosquitos (and thus humans) against Dengue. Other researchers in BioSciences have tackled the potentially catastrophic issue of drug resistance in malaria, a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. By looking carefully at the evolution and physiology of malaria they have developed new tools that reduces the issue of drug resistance and might allow us to combat malaria in perpetuity. Clearly, the economic and health benefits of targeted biological research into human disease are vast.

The School of BioSciences has a proven track record of applying biological research to solving problems of human disease. The School has the breadth of expertise and the collaborative atmosphere in which novel approaches are bound to emerge. Funding for blue sky research in this area would enable new avenues to be rapidly explored and, if successful, built to the proof of concept stage (at which point other funding could be sought to translate the work into real-world outcomes).