By Jayden Malseed
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but we’re hoping these brightly coloured images can tell an even bigger story.
At first glance you may think the image below is part of an octopus tentacle, or maybe the underside of an alien spaceship from the 1996 movie Independence Day, or perhaps even something else entirely.
Now this isn’t just your ordinary microscope. Costing roughly $750 000, the microscope is designed to focus on fluorescent colours that have been ‘tagged’ to specific components, which then show up on a big computer screen, giving us these incredible pictures.
The green highlights are the cells that have been infected by Hendra, while the blue highlights are the cell nuclei. To create this picture an antibody is dyed fluorescent green, which then attaches to the viral proteins, effectively colouring it green.
The vital research, led by microscopist Dr Paul Monaghan, uses these images to study the cell biology of Hendra virus. The confocal microscope, which is located within the high containment facility at our Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong Victoria, helps Paul and his team better understand the virus, and to be able to answer questions such as why it attacks certain cells, and what it does when it gets to a cell.
“We’re developing a deeper understanding of the virus by using the microscope and the images, and if we can pinpoint a specific stage in the virus lifecycle and say to ourselves ‘this is the point we need to stop it’ then that would be enormous”, Paul explained.
The two images to the right are slightly different from the first. Where the first was a section from a kidney, these are taken from cells growing in tissue culture. We have also labeled two virus proteins: one red and one green.
They demonstrate how the Hendra virus has infected the cells, and after 14 hours has fused those cells together to form what is called a syncytium. The green/blue round circles are the nuclei – normally one in each cell – but the rest of the cell is relatively unaffected.
After 24 hours, the infection has progressed and newly made virus proteins are gathering at the edge of the cell (next to the black areas) to form new viruses. The red and green proteins are now together and can be seen as an irregular orange line at the edge of the cell.
These images allow Paul and his team to study the virus at different stages of its lifecycle, and and will be incredibly helpful for future research with Hendra virus and other related viruses that threaten the biosecurity of our animals, people and environment.
This research is part of our wider program of work on bats and the viruses they carry.
The last 30 years have seen a rise in emerging infectious diseases in humans, of which more than 70% are zoonotic. Zoonoses are diseases that normally exist in animals but have the potential to transmit to humans. They can be caused by many different infectious agents including bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Zoonotic infections have always been a part of the human disease landscape and most have come from domestic animals. The long lists includes anthrax, tuberculosis, plague, yellow fever and influenza. But with changes in environment, human behaviour and habitat destruction, these biosecurity threats are increasingly emerging from wildlife species.
Although it was established over a century ago that rabies was linked to bats, the research community was surprised to find that the SARS virus – which claimed more than 800 lives and cost more than $80bn globally – emerged from bats to civets and ultimately infected humans in the wet markets of southern China.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and most infectious disease experts agree that the source of the next human pandemic is likely to be zoonotic and wildlife is likely the prime suspect. While much effort has understandably gone into preparations for avian influenza, the next deadly pandemic may be the result of a currently unknown zoonotic agent.
Since the identification of bats as the probable source of the SARS epidemic, the global focus on emerging infectious disease has turned to them to understand and ultimately predict the source of the next human pandemic.
In the last 20 years, a significant number of highly lethal viral diseases have emerged from bat species across the world. These include Hendra virus and Australian bat lyssavirus in Australia and Nipah virus in Malaysia and Bangladesh, where regular outbreaks reach mortality levels of 100%. Haemorrhagic fever viruses, including the feared and lethal Ebola and Marburg viruses, have also emerged from bats in Africa and Asia.
After crippling the globe in 2003 and 2004, SARS appeared to have vanished until last year when there was a deadly human SARS-like outbreak in Saudi Arabia. It killed six out of 12 infected patients and cases of infection continue to emerge. Known as SARI (severe acute respiratory infection), this infection has now shown the critical capacity to transmit from one person to another and, like its precursor, initial evidence supports its emergence from bats.
Zoonotic diseases in humans can take several different courses. For some, like rabies and West Nile virus, humans are “dead-end” hosts. That is, they transmit (spill over) from their animal reservoir (host) into humans but as there’s no subsequent human-to-human transmission, the disease is restricted from spreading.
Others, such as SARS and avian influenza, spill over to humans, cause disease and are able to transmit from person to person before being eradicated or “burning out” from the human population, leaving no residual infection except in its animal host.
The third are diseases such as HIV AIDS, which spilled out of primates decades ago and has persisted in the human population ever since. And measles and mumps, which probably entered the human population thousands of years ago and are somewhat controlled but still circulating.
It’s impossible to completely safeguard against zoonotic diseases but steps can and are being taken to limit the opportunity for spill-over events through monitoring and rapid response when and where they do occur.
Controlling zoonotic diseases and protecting our animals, people and environment from increasing biosecurity threats will not only take a global effort but a multidisciplinary one. It cannot be addressed adequately with traditional human medical strategies where disease is fought in the human population only.
If we are to prepare and respond adequately to the next zoonotic attack, the approach needs to be diverse, taking in medical, veterinary, ecological and environmental factors. The transition will be complex, but necessary if we are to protect the global community from zoonotic disease as best as we can. After all, the stakes are high.
The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.
By Jayden Malseed
When most people picture a suit, they probably think of a smartly dressed person in a business suit, but when Shawn Todd ‘suits up’ for work he wears a suit that, while made in France, isn’t exactly at the high end of fashion.
Shawn (A.K.A. Strawnie) is a research technician at CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, Victoria, and since 2007 he’s been studying bats and the deadly viruses they carry.
AAHL provides a unique resource for Australia and its capacity to work with deadly disease agents at the highest level of containment, physical containment level four (PC4), is arguably the best in the world.
To stay safe when working with viruses such as SARS, Hendra and Ebola, Shawn and his colleagues spend much of their day wearing an encapsulated suit in AAHL’s high containment facility.
“The suits are air tight, have their own air supply and provide a high level protection between us and any aerosol exposure to pathogens or toxic chemicals,” Shawn said.
The number of hours that scientists work in the suit at any one time can vary.
“I work in a suit most days and it can include a couple of visits for a few hours at a time,” Shawn said.
“However, any longer than four hours and you start to get hungry, and need to worry about things like toilet stops, as it can take a while to go through the exiting procedure. It’s best to plan ahead and go before you enter the suit room.”
And even though they’re working within a completely air tight suit, they’re not cut off from the outside world. Communication headsets allow the team to talk not only with each other, but someone across the other side of the world, although privacy is at a premium – the headsets are linked together, so everyone can listen in!
Another pitfall of wearing a suit is that there’s no way to clean the inside while you are in them, say if they get contaminated with a wayward sneeze, which Shawn laments “has happened many times – it’s not great!”
The suits take about a minute, give or take, to get in and out, and when the day’s work is done you need to ‘shower out’ for around eight minutes in a chemical shower (with the suits on) followed by three minutes in a personal shower (with the suits off).
The suit room isn’t the only place within AAHL’s high containment area where staff may need to take showers as part of maintaining the facility’s biocontainment.
According to Shawn the record for the most number of showers taken in a 24 hour period is 23, although that was some years ago.
“I haven’t got anywhere near that, my highest is five” Shawn said.
The suits cost roughly $3,500 and last between 80 and 120 uses, or roughly six months.
Although they may be a hassle to get in and out of, these suits are a necessity for Shawn and his colleagues and enable them to undertake groundbreaking research safely on biosecurity issues affecting Australia.
You can see more of Shawn and his colleagues working in the suits in Channel Ten’s documentary The Hunt For Hendra (video).
Bats are amazing creatures. They’ve been around for at least 65 million years, and in that time have become one of the most abundant and widespread mammals on earth.
Our Bat Pack, a team of researchers at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, conduct a wide range of research into bats and bat borne viruses, and their potential effects on the human population, as part of the effort to safeguard Australia from exotic and emerging pests and diseases.
Their paper, published today in the journal Science, provides an insight into the evolution of the bat’s flight, resistance to viruses, and relatively long life.
The Bat Pack, in collaboration with the Beijing Genome Institute, led a team that sequenced the genomes of two bat species – the Black Flying Fox, an Australian mega bat, and the David’s Myotis, a Chinese micro bat.
Once the genomes were sequenced, they compared them to the genomes of other mammals, including humans, to find where the similarities and differences lay.
Chris Cowled, post-doctoral fellow at AAHL says the research may eventually lead to strategies to treat, or even prevent disease in humans.
“A deeper understanding of these evolutionary adaptations in bats may lead to better treatments for human diseases, and may eventually enable us to predict or perhaps even prevent outbreaks of emerging bat viruses,” Dr Cowled said.
“Bats are a natural reservoir for several lethal viruses, such as Hendra, Ebola and SARS, but they often don’t succumb to disease from these viruses. They’re also the only mammal that can fly, and they live a long time compared to animals similar in size.”
Flying is a very energy intensive activity that also produces toxic by-products, and bats have developed some novel genes to deal with the toxins. Some of these genes, including P53, are implicated in the development of cancer or the detection and repair of damaged DNA.
“What we found intriguing was that some of these genes also have secondary roles in the immune system,” Dr Cowled said.
“We’re proposing that the evolution of flight led to a sort of spill over effect, influencing not only the immune system, but also things like ageing and cancer.”
The research was a global effort involving the Beijing Genome Institute in Shenzhen, China; Australia’s national science research agency, the CSIRO; the University of Copenhagen; Wuhan Institute of Virology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences; the Naval Medical Research Center and Henry M. Jackson Foundation in the USA; Uniformed Services University, USA; and the Graduate Medical School at the Duke-National University of Singapore.
Media Contact: John Smith, CSIRO Animal, Food and Health Sciences; 07 3214 2960; 0467 736 671; firstname.lastname@example.org
Australian horse owners and the equine industry receive an important boost in their fight against the deadly Hendra virus today, with the introduction of Equivac® HeV vaccine.
The vaccine, available under permit from registered veterinarians, is for use only in horses and aims to protect the Australian equine population against this killer disease. With a high mortality rate, Hendra virus has claimed the lives of more than 60 horses, including nine deaths in 2012 alone.
The threat of Hendra virus extends well beyond horses with four out of the seven people infected with the virus dying as a result of the infection. With no known cure, the Equivac HeV vaccine is set to become the most effective defence against this disease.
‘The vaccine is a major win for people working in veterinary practice, who are at great risk of Hendra infection,’ Dr Ben Gardiner, President, Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) said. ‘This vaccine significantly decreases the risk to horse owners, handlers and veterinarians.’
The Equivac HeV vaccine was developed in collaboration with four international organisations. In Australia, CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) worked in close partnership with Pfizer Animal Health. Additionally, US organisations, the Uniformed Service University of the Health Sciences (USU) and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine (HJF) have also contributed to the development of this important vaccine.
Pfizer Animal Health was involved from early on in the process, contributing to formulation, industrialisation, production and distribution of the vaccine.
“Our involvement in the collaboration to develop Equivac HeV speaks to our determination to support the veterinary community and equine industry with effective vaccines to aid in the control of potentially life-threatening diseases such as the Hendra virus,” said Mike van Blommestein, Division Director, Pfizer Animal Health Australia.
Additionally, it has also managed the formal regulatory approval process including those safety and efficacy trials required by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for the granting of permit approval, as well as fulfilling the requirements of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.
CSIRO has maintained a significant program of Hendra virus research since it was first identified and has contributed critical technical knowhow and advice on the virus to the partnership. CSIRO also provided the safe handling of Hendra virus and testing of the Equivac HeV at its high containment facility in Geelong, Victoria – the only laboratory in the world capable of such high-risk work.
Leading the specialist team from CSIRO, Dr Deborah Middleton,a veterinary pathologist, has a deep understanding of the need for an equine vaccine to aid in the prevention of the spread of Hendra virus.
‘As a veterinarian, I have seen firsthand how Hendra virus has created difficult working conditions for my colleagues and any Australian who works with horses,’ Dr Middleton said.
‘A horse vaccine is crucial to breaking the cycle of Hendra virus transmission from flying foxes to horses and then to people, as it can prevent both the horse developing the disease and passing it on.
‘For the first time, we have a Hendra virus specific tool that provides vets with a greater level of safety when they come into contact with sick horses.’
US partners, HJF and USU, also played an important role in the initial stages of the development of Equivac HeV vaccine. A research team at USU, led by Dr Christopher Broder, worked for more than a decade to find preventive treatments for both Hendra and Nipah virus infections.
Contributing to this work, HJF provided intellectual property advice and guidance to Dr Broder’s team to ensure the Hendra virus vaccine moved from the military to the civilian world.
Pfizer Animal Health is now working to supply Equivac HeV vaccine to those areas with the greatest need across Australia.
They will also oversee the training and accreditation of veterinarians working with the vaccine as well as the supply and maintenance of a national vaccine register for horses, requiring veterinarians to record details of a horse’s location and vaccination status.
While the introduction of a vaccine represents a significant step in countering the Hendra virus, it is still important that veterinarians and those who work with horses take precautions to safeguard against infection.
‘Although Equivac HeV will provide enormous reassurance for Australians in contact with horses, owners should still take caution around places flying foxes congregate. Anyone handling a sick horse should continue to take precautions,’ Dr Gardiner added. ‘Simple measures such as using personal protective equipment and clothing, quarantining sick horses from other animals and people and following good hygiene practices as a matter of routine, can greatly reduce the risk of the disease.’
CSIRO has maintained a significant program of research on the deadly Hendra virus, since the virus was first identified in 1994. This work is part of CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship’s commitment to protecting the health of our animals and people from biosecurity disease threats.
The Hendra virus horse vaccine project has received significant funding from State and Federal governments over the years. Most recently, in 2011, the Intergovernmental Hendra Virus Taskforce was formed and additional funding was provided through the National Hendra Virus Research Program to ensure critical timelines for vaccine development were maintained.
For further information, pre-recorded video footage or an interview, please contact:
Emma Wilkins, CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship
0409 031 658
Katherine Barbeler, Weber Shandwick:
0439 941 632
For more information about the Equivac HeV vaccine, visit health4horses
Read more news@CSIRO posts about the Hendra Virus
World-renowned scientists are meeting today at the Emerging Infectious Diseases Symposium (EIDS2012), in Geelong, Victoria, to help improve our ability to protect people and animals from increasing biosecurity threats, such as Hendra virus and dengue fever.
The Geelong Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases (GCEID) is hosting the two-day Symposium, which is bringing together the critical areas of One Health – a combined approach to animal, human and environmental health.
According to Professor Martyn Jeggo, the director of CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), emerging infectious diseases are a serious concern.
“In Australia we have seen the damage a Hendra virus outbreak can cause, and globally we witnessed the emergence of SARS and how rapidly it spread from animals to people, and then around the world,” Professor Jeggo said.
“This meeting is providing us with an opportunity to share research into new diagnostic tools, drivers for emergence of disease and innovative control strategies that will allow us to not only respond to disease outbreaks more effectively but explore ways to predict where and when the next pandemic might strike.”
One of the meeting highlights includes updates on the progress of Hendra virus research projects that were funded by the Intergovernmental Hendra Virus Taskforce in 2011, under the National Hendra Virus Research Program. This will include work on bat ecology, surveillance tools, pathogenesis and Hendra virus vaccines.
“While much of this research is in the early stages, we need to maintain and continue adding to the number of tools that we have to help effectively manage the risks from this devastating virus,” Professor Jeggo said.
Conference host GCEID is an innovative research partnership between CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory, Barwon Health and Deakin University focused on identifying, monitoring and developing treatments for new infectious diseases as they spread between animals and people.
To further promote effective national collaboration and coordination of emerging infectious disease research, scientists from CSIRO’s Biosecurity Flagship, along with representatives from GCEID, the Queensland Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Sydney Emerging Infections and Biosecurity Institute will present their work.
The following experts are among the EIDS2012 key note speakers:
- W. Ian Lipkin – Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity, John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and Professor of Neurology and Pathology at College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, USA
- Ralph Tripp – Centre for Disease Intervention, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, USA
- Ashley St John – Emerging Infectious Diseases Program, Duke National University of Singapore, Singapore.
For further information please visit the official website: EIDS2012 (Emerging Infectious Diseases Symposium) [wiki site].
Media: Emma Wilkins. Ph: +61 3 5227 5123. Alt Ph: +61 2 409 031 658. E: email@example.com
CSIRO scientists, in collaboration with researchers at the Bio21 Institute at the University of Melbourne, have developed a new method which could pave the way for a portable Hendra virus biosensor.
In a paper published in the journal of Advanced Healthcare Materials, CSIRO scientists detail the outcome of the study designed to find a faster, simpler way to detect the virus.
Hendra virus was discovered in 1994 following an outbreak of illness in a large racing stable in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra.
Current detection methods are mainly lab-based and require samples to be shipped to state or national testing labs. CSIRO’s tests have shown that this new method can deliver a positive or negative test result, under lab conditions, within 30 minutes.
The hope is this can be reduced to 10 minutes in the future, making portable detection a reality. The team tested three new detection methods and found that by using quantum dots – to increase the sensitivity of current analytics methods (assays) – they were able to simplify the detection process to the point where the creation of a portable sensor is now possible.
The method uses a similar principle as a current lab technology, known as Luminex, but the combination of quantum dots and magnetic nano-particles allows the same process to be carried out on a much smaller scale.
“The early detection of viruses, such as the Hendra virus, will greatly enhance the success rate of any biosecurity counter measure,” Dr Paolo Falcaro, CSIRO Research Scientist and leader of the joint research team, said.
“Further optimisation of the system is required, but this study is a proof-of-concept of the possibility to implement this method in a portable Hendra virus sensor that could be used at the point of care. The most exciting aspect to this technology is it could be used to detect any other virus by simply targeting the virus with the corresponding antibody.”
Quantum dots and magnetic particles were chosen to simplify the reaction required to detect the virus. The biosensor works by targeting the Hendra virus and its antibody. If there is a match, the sensor delivers a positive result.
Professor Paul Mulvaney, of the Bio21 Institute at the University of Melbourne, said: “This is the first application of these fluorescent nanocrystals developed at the University of Melbourne for virus detection and an important example of how the University of Melbourne-CSIRO partnership can help us focus basic science onto important health challenges.
“Getting this test into a microfluidics platform will enable us to develop a generic approach to pathogen detection in the field.”
Mr Simon Hunter
Materials Science and Manufacturing
Phone: +61 3 9545 8412
Australian scientists have discovered a new virus in bats that could help shed light on how Hendra and Nipah viruses cause disease and death in animals and humans.
The new virus – named ‘Cedar’ after the Queensland location where it was discovered – is a close relative of the deadly Hendra and Nipah viruses.
However, CSIRO’s initial studies have discovered one surprising key difference – the Cedar virus does not cause illness in several animal species normally susceptible to Hendra and Nipah.
This tantalising difference may help scientists understand how to better manage and control its deadly cousins. The findings have been announced today in the journal, PLoS Pathogens, publishedby the Public Library of Science.
Mr Gary Crameri, research scientist with the bat virus team at CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Victoria, said the new discovery had significant potential implications for protecting animals and humans from the Hendra and Nipah viruses.
“The significance of discovering a new henipavirus that doesn’t cause disease is that it may help us narrow down what it is about the genetic makeup of viruses like Hendra and Nipah that does cause disease and death,” Mr Crameri said.
“The more that we can learn about bat-borne viruses, the better chance we have of developing anti-virals and vaccines to help protect human health, Australia’s livestock industry and our export trade from the threat of current and emerging animal diseases.
“Over 70 per cent of people and animals infected with Hendra and Nipah viruses die. This ranks henipaviruses amongst the deadliest viruses in existence, yet little is known about just how such viruses actually cause disease or death.”
It is still too early to rule out the possibility that Cedar virus may cause illness and death in horses or other animals.
The discovery was a result of a close partnership with Biosecurity Queensland which played an important role by collecting and screening samples from bat colonies across Queensland.
“Field work with bats is an essential part of research into identifying new viruses,” Dr Hume Field of Biosecurity Queensland said. “Bats are being implicated as the natural host of a growing number of viruses in Australia and overseas, yet they appear to tolerate infection themselves making bat research increasingly important.”
Bats have been identified as playing a role in the spread of viruses including Ebola, Marburg, SARS and Melaka yet they are an essential part of our diverse ecosystem through their role as pollinators, seed dispersers and insect regulators.
The discovery is part of ongoing research by CSIRO to target diseases that threaten our animals, people and the environment and is part of CSIRO’s wider biosecurity effort. It follows CSIRO’s development towards a horse vaccine against Hendra virus.
Pamela Tyers, CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory
Mb: 0488 995 023 E: Pamela.Tyers@csiro.au