IDEA Project: “IDEA: Identification and Characterization of emerging pathogens”

IDEA Project: “IDEA: Identification and Characterization of emerging pathogens”

Realizing the need to strengthen capacities in rapid and reliable infectious disease identification and characterization, the Department of Zoology and Environment Sciences has initiated a collaborative project with the Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, Germany. To facilitate this, the Vice-Chancellor, University of Colombo entered into a cooperation agreement with the President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany in November 2017.
The main objective of this collaboration is to strengthen the diagnostic capacities for the identification and characterization of pathogens in infectious diseases in Sri Lanka. This specifically includes the characterization of highly pathogenic viruses and the investigation of their transmission routes from potential animal reservoirs and vectors to humans. Therefore, the prevalence of highly pathogenic viruses in reservoir species, such as bats and rodents and viral pathogens that would induce encephalitis conditions in humans will be investigated by a team of scientists from the University of Colombo, RKI and North Colombo Teaching Hospital (NCTH), Ragama. Further, a molecular diagnostic facility has been established since 18th March 2020 for COVID 19 diagnosis at the RKI funded NCTH (North Colombo Teaching Hospital, Ragama) Laboratories at the Microbiology Laboratory of NCTH, with a team of scientists from the Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, scientists from RKI, clinicians and a microbiologist from NCTH with the RKI trained Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLTs) of NCTH and a virologist from the Medical Research Institute.
With the support of RKI, fully equipped research and diagnostic laboratories for molecular and immunological detection of high-threat pathogens and expansion of the diagnostic portfolio for pathogens relevant for differential diagnosis, were established at the Department of Zoology and Environment Sciences, University of Colombo and Colombo North Teaching Hospital.

ACHIEVEMENTS FROM 2017 TO DATE

  • Studies on pathogen discovery in potential reservoir hosts, e.g. bats, to investigate prevalence, transmission routes and seasonality of zoonotic pathogens.
  • Investigation of cases of unidentified encephalitis of unknown etiology from CNTH in order to identify novel pathogens, and development of custom-made diagnostics methods.
  • Trainings on the diagnostics of infectious diseases for several professional groups from UoC and CNTH.
    • Six (6) training programmes for 5-9 trainees on molecular diagnostics (PCR, RTPCR and NGS) and serology (ELISA, IFA) have been performed in Sri Lanka (focus on Dengue, Chikungunya, JEV and their differential diagnosis)
    • Nine (9) trainings/workshops on diagnostics, next generation sequencing, sampling etc. were performed in Germany.
    • Four participants from University of Colombo and NCTH participated in a “Train-the-trainer principle” workshop carried out in RKI, Berlin.
    • Two (2) PhD students (Ms Thejanee Perera and Mr Sahan Siriwardene ) received European Mobile Lab training in 2018/19 and trained to perform diagnostics and supporting clinical laboratory analysis on site during outbreaks of infectious diseases caused by pathogens up to risk group 4. One PhD student Ms Therese Muzeinick from RKI is also working in association with this project.

ACHIEVEMENTS FROM 2017 TO DATE

  1. Identifying medically important viral and bacterial pathogens in bats to determine their seroptypes/phenotypes and genotypes
  2. Identification and genotyping of etiological agents/pathogens in unidentified encephalitis cases in humans
  3. Study the correlation between stress levels and viral shedding in the Indian Flying Fox, Pteropus giganteus in different climatic zones in Sri Lanka
  4. Surveying bats and rodents for the presence and availability of Pox viruses in Sri Lanka

RESEARCH PERSONNEL

Prof. Dr. Andreas Nitsche
Head, Centre for Biological Threats and Special Pathogens
ZBS – Highly Pathogenic Viruses
Robert Koch Institute
Germany

Dr. Claudia Kohl
Research Scientist
Centre for Biological Threats and Special Pathogens
ZBS – Highly Pathogenic Viruses
Robert Koch Institute
Germany

wipula-yapa

Prof. Wipula Yapa
Department of Zoology & Environment Sciences
University of Colombo

Retired Senior Prof. Sunil Premawansa
Department of Zoology & Environment Sciences
University of Colombo

Dr. Gayani Premawansa
Consultant Physician
North Colombo Teaching Hospital, Ragama

Dr. Dananja Nirmalie
Consultant Micorbiologist, North
Colombo Teaching Hospital, Ragama

thejanee-perera

Ms Thejanee Perera
PhD Student

Ms Therese Museniek
PhD Student

Mr. Sahan Siriwardana
PhD Student