New funding for research into flesh-eating Buruli ulcer

Paul Hayes

27/04/2018 11:40:03 AM

As the flesh-eating scourge of the Buruli ulcer reaches epidemic levels in parts of Australia, the Federal and Victorian governments have announced the provision of medical research funding to help better understand the ulcer and reduce its spread.

The new research will include examining mosquitoes’ role in spreading the Buruli ulcer bacteria to humans.
The new research will include examining mosquitoes’ role in spreading the Buruli ulcer bacteria to humans.

‘This is a horrible and painful medical condition and research is vital to get to the bottom of this emerging health challenge,’ Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt said.
The Buruli ulcer, caused by bacterium mycobacterium ulcerans, can cause large, destructive lesions of skin, soft tissue and even bone. Numbers of the disease have grown to their highest ever level, with 275 confirmed cases in 2017.
The bacterial infection is particularly devastating on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, with confirmed infections increasing by around 400% in the last four years. The disease is also found in Far North Queensland (where it is known as the Daintree ulcer) and other parts of coastal Victoria, including East Gippsland, Phillip Island, and the Bellarine Peninsula.
The Federal Government announced $1.5 million in funding for a two-year study on mosquitoes in south-east Victoria. Professor Tim Stinear, a molecular microbiologist at the University of Melbourne who found mosquitoes are a key factor in spreading the bacteria to humans, will lead the study. It will also include researchers from Barwon Health, Mornington Peninsula Shire and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Victorian Minister for Health Jill Hennessy also announced a funding contribution of $250,000.
‘Victorian researchers have been involved in and supported research and field work over the past few years in a search for answers around the puzzling aspects of this condition,’ Minister Hennessy said.
Minister Hunt has described the research as one of the first in the world to study the transmission of the Buruli ulcer.
‘This project will provide much needed evidence which will inform public health policies to control this emerging disease,’ he said. ‘[Professor Stinear] and his team already have a strong hypothesis about mosquito-borne transmission. If they can confirm that and then we can eradicate the hotspots, we will be on our way to not just providing a solution for Victoria and Australia, but for the world.’
Professor Stinear is excited to get started on the research.
‘South-east Australia is one of the few places outside of West Africa where Buruli ulcer is prevalent,’ he said. ‘It’s a dubious distinction but it gives us a responsibility to do something about it … an obligation, in fact, where we’re well-resourced to try to study and understand this disease.’

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