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Pakistan-US Science and Technology Cooperation Program                                                            
Phase 2 (2006 Deadline)

Building Molecular Biology Capacity for Preventing Tick-Transmitted Diseases in Pakistan  
Thomas N. Mather, University of Rhode Island, Kingston
Abdullah G. Arijo, Sindh Agricultural University, Tando Jam
Pakistani Funding (HEC):  $225,451
US Funding:    $290,000
Project Dates on US Side: March 1, 2007 - October 31, 2011

Project Overview

In Pakistan more than 75 percent of the rural population practices livestock husbandry, and a majority of them depend on livestock for their subsistence. Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever virus and other significant tick-transmitted pathogens of humans and animals are endemic to certain regions of Pakistan and have the potential to cause significant human morbidity and mortality and impact Pakistan’s agricultural economy and the livelihood of its rural citizens. This project's goal was to establish a molecular entomology laboratory at Sindh Agricultural University (SAU) to build Pakistani capabilities to study and prevent tick-transmitted diseases in Pakistan. The project was also focused on developing high-throughput transcriptomic, functional genomic, and proteomic systems and strategies aimed at identifying tick salivary proteins that can produce strong delayed-type hypersensitivity responses, antibody responses, or a combination of both, that correlate with protection from tick-borne disease (TBD). This novel approach could accelerate anti-tick and TBD vaccine development by informing the vaccine candidate selection process. Moreover, functional genomic screens involving inhibitory RNA are expected to identify novel pharmaco-therapeutic targets for disrupting tick feeding and pathogen transmission.

Dr. Mather and his colleagues at URI continued their studies on vaccines and small molecular targets to disrupt feeding of black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) and transmission of the agents causing Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. Dr. Arijo and his fellow researchers at SAU worked to (1) develop TBD surveillance and assessment capabilities to identify and prioritize vector tick species in Sindh Province; (2) establish a capacity at SAU to conduct TBD diagnostics using rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and reverse transcription PCR assays without requiring specialized biocontainment facilities; and (3) focus vaccine and pharmaceutical discovery research on important Pakistani tick species identified by the activities described in aims 1 and 2.

In addition to these efforts on both sides, the project originally included plans for a series of hands-on workshops at SAU to train Pakistani faculty, researchers, and students in the cutting-edge techniques needed to build and advance an appropriate molecular biology capacity that can be applied to various programs for preventing tick-transmitted diseases in Pakistan. Unfortunately, due to the security situation in Pakistan and particularly in rural south Sindh, plans for these large-scale workshops were shelved, although Dr. Mather and his US colleagues have been able to deliver some of the training by videoconferencing and some by individual visits.

Major Results

  • Renovated SAU Tick Laboratory and installed new equipment
  • Provided training to Pakistani and U.S. scientists involved in tick-bone disease prevention research on both sides
  • Created normalized cDNA library from Pakistani ticks
  • Piloted a joint undergraduate student exchange project between SAU and URI that provided students with opportunities to collaborate on zoonotic disease perception survey development and data analysis
  • Provided training to more than 50 Pakistani students, researchers, and technicians in various seminars, workshops, and conferences.

Progress Report Summaries

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