Knowledge on animal-borne diseases in China and Sweden

The project studies micro-organisms that are transmitted from insects and ticks and cause malaria, Zika and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE).

The environment is highly significant to the spread of infectious diseases around the world, and one of the top factors behind increased transmission of diseases from animals to humans is climate change. A collaborative project is now being initiated with China that aims at increasing preparedness for new disease outbreaks.

Climate changes affect the life cycles of many carriers of pathogenic micro-organisms, such as those transmitted by insects and ticks that cause malaria, Zika and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). Wild animals, such as rodents and bats, can also carry a large number of viruses and bacteria that can infect humans and lead to severe diseases, such as Ebola, Lassa fever, hantaviruses and tularaemia.

Åke Lundkvist, Professor of Microbiology, is
heading the project. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“Although today we know the causes of many diseases and how they are spread, there’s still a lot we don’t know,” says Åke Lundkvist, Professor at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology. “There is in all likelihood still a large number of viruses and bacteria that can cause disease outbreaks if they come in close contact with the human population.”

Lundkvist believes that there are major shortcomings in our readiness for outbreaks and that much more knowledge and monitoring of new infectious agents in wild animals, domestic animals and humans are needed.

Start of three-year project

A three-year project is now being launched in collaboration with a national institute for the control and prevention of communicable diseases in China. The project has a clear One Health perspective, i.e. that the health of humans and animals is dependent both on each other and on the environment. The researchers will look for new infectious agents in both China and Sweden, in different environments and at different times, in order to determine the role played by temperature variations and other changes in the environment.

“For this, we will develop new methods for effectively identifying the genomes of bacteria and viruses, as well as antibodies against these in infected animals and humans,” says Lundkvist. “We will look for both unknown and known viruses and bacteria among bats, rodents, ticks and mosquitoes.”

In addition to this, the project will also study biological diversity among potentially disease-transmitting animals in various environments and how this relates to the number of zoonotic viruses and bacteria. New viruses and bacteria found in the project will be isolated and studied to see what potential effects they could have on a host.

Better knowledge and faster diagnostics

A new platform is being set up through the project to generate enhanced knowledge and faster diagnostics of known and newly discovered infectious agents, which will lead to several new collaborations and increased exchange of researchers and knowledge between the two countries, Lundkvist says.

“Although both researchers and public authorities recognise the benefits of working with One Health, it is seldom practically implemented, and this project will contribute significantly to disseminating more knowledge and more transboundary opportunities. Over time, this will not only contribute to enhanced knowledge, but also to increased opportunities to stay a step ahead of the new diseases that will pose new threats in the future.”

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Facts:

At the end of 2017, the Swedish Research Council granted a total of SEK 35.9 million to research projects in collaboration with China. Twelve projects were awarded grants and two of these are being conducted from Uppsala University.

‘China-Sweden joint investigation on zoonotic pathogens in changing environment’ is directed by Åke Lundkvist in collaboration with the National Institute for Communicable Disease Control and Prevention in China and has been awarded a grant in the amount of SEK 3 million.

Find out more:

Swedish-Chinese cooperation on health and the environment

31 January 2018