Two promising University of Victoria projects to help prevent spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus have been given a funding boost.
Grand Challenges Canada has awarded $50,000 to UVic chemist Alexandre Brolo for his research on two applications that could alleviate this emerging public health crisis. The virus has been reported in Africa, Asia, French Polynesia and the Americas, especially countries such as Brazil where neurological, auto-immune and birth complications have been observed.
Using nano-technology, Brolo and his team are creating low-cost strips that detect the presence of arboviruses such as Zika and dengue in saliva. The screening device involves a plastic strip coated with nanoparticles that change colour when they come into contact with infected saliva. With simple-to-use technology, these screening strips would be used by on-the-ground health workers to detect infection trends.
“This funding will allow me to continue to optimize the stability and accuracy of these strips,” said Brolo.
The grant will also help cover a small-scale pilot project in collaboration with a virologist at São Paulo University in Brazil.
Brolo’s second award is for a collaboration that started at Zika Innovation Hack-a-thon held by the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies at Massachusetts General Hospital. As part of a team, he helped conceptualize an app that uses a smartphone camera to detect the presence of mosquito larvae in stagnated water, while also recording the time and location of the photo. With this new funding, the team will start development of the app.
Originally from Brazil, Brolo knows what an outbreak of mosquito-borne illness looks like.
“I grew up seeing dengue fever. Every year the authorities struggle to control outbreaks, using the same strategies. Now we have Zika, which is spread in a very similar way. If we can provide the right tools to help control the mosquito vector, the outbreak and the infection, then we can start to solve the problem.”
Both the screening strips and the smartphone app will provide affected areas with the ability to collect information on Zika accurately and cheaply. Armed with this information, health organizations could more efficiently take steps to both prevent the spread of the disease and treat those infected.