Tropical diseases research - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Tropical diseases research

The need for immediate answers

Imagine saving up for that African safari, or a relaxing beach side holiday in Bali, or travelling to Brazil for Carnival, or even that trek to Far North Queensland to experience the delights of tropical Australia; now imagine you start to feel feverish, sore, and quite ill… You need answers and treatment fast!

Within the increasingly mobile society in which we live, tropical diseases don’t just reside in these tropical locations - they can also become mobile via air travel, transport trucks, or even just a hug or handshake with an infected fellow passenger. According to Queensland Health, the viruses dengue, Ross River and Barmah Forest occur widely in Queensland and Australia. The Zika Virus has been diagnosed in Queensland in travellers returning from overseas. The same mosquito that is found in Queensland and carries dengue is also known to transmit Zika.

Now imagine if there was a rapid diagnostic test that allowed the health care worker in Africa, Bali, Brazil, or Cape York to find out if you have Malaria, Dengue, or Zika. You can then receive the correct treatment and find relief from your symptoms quickly.

Good news! USC’s research team led by Associate Professor Joanne Macdonald is working towards this goal by adapting a simple diagnostic test to report on the presence of multiple health-related biomarkers.


To get the inside story, contact the researcher:

Associate Professor Joanne Macdonald
Tel:  +61 7 5456 5944

Joanne MacDonald's team

Dr Joanne MacDonald's team

How USC is tackling the issue

To develop a solution for rapid health monitoring, Associate Professor Macdonald’s team have considered one of the simplest health monitoring tools available on the market: the at-home pregnancy test. This test is rapid and easy to use, but currently only reports the presence or absence of one health-related biomarker (a molecule that is present during pregnancy).

The USC team realised this simple device could be expanded for the detection of multiple health-related biomarkers, including developing a visual output system to enable straightforward read-out by the operator, without requiring any electronic devices.

USC is collaborating with world leaders in diagnostics to apply this technology for detection of the following disease panels that are of particular importance to not only Queensland and Australia but globally, given the presence or threat of these particular diseases.

  • Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, including: Dengue virus, Zika virus and Malaria parasite
  • Diseases causing hemorrhagic fever, including Ebola virus
  • Viral diseases that cause encephalitis, including:Murray Valley encephalitis virus, West Nile virus and Hendra virus
  • Diseases transmitted in contaminated water, including Adenoviruses that cause: colds, pneumonia and diarrhoea


“The most exciting benefit of this research is that because our technology is generic, it has the potential to be customized to many different situations” explains Associate Professor Joanne Macdonald.

Dr Macdonald goes on to illustrate that “the tests could be used by individuals, clinicians, government workers, or biosecurity teams – all tailor-made to their particular situation. For example:

  • A patient has symptoms that could be attributed to several different diseases – our technology could quickly be used to tell which disease was the cause, rather than the doctor having to “guess” the disease to order the correct tests from the pathologists.

  • A patient has several health issues (for example, epilepsy and a heart condition) where careful monitoring is required to balance medications so they don’t affect one another.”

Table 1:  Benefits of the rapid assay compared to real-time PCR assays
- New rapid assay Current assay
Speed <10 minutes ~ 2.5 hours
Location Potential for field/clinic use Specialised laboratory
Sample handling Can be processed immediately Shipped to central laboratory (hours/days)
Readout View immediately by eye Requires expensive equipment
Simplicity Easy to operate Requires trainer personnel
Sensitivity Highly sensitive Highly sensitive
PCR assay

Donate now

To help support this historical innovation in disease research, a special fund has been established for those who would like to contribute towards the life-changing research.

By making a donation to support Rapid Diagnostic Technology you will assist in providing world-wide changes to how viral and bacterial diseases are detected and thus will contribute to the next step in eradication of these deadly diseases.

100% of your donation will go towards Rapid Diagnostic Technology research, and any donations over $2 are tax deductible.

For more information on donating to this project contact Kate Evans, Senior Development Manager, USC Development Office.