STD Vaccine Developed For Koala Bears

A Chlamydia vaccine for koala bears has been shown to be both safe and effective, potentially enhancing conservation efforts.

AsianScientist (Nov. 4, 2014) – A vaccine protecting koala bears from the sexually-transmitted disease Chlamydia has proven to be successful in both captive and wild animals. This could help increase the population of these endangered animals, whose numbers have dwindled in part due to Chlamydia which can cause blindness, infertility or even death.

The vaccine project was led by University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) microbiologists Professor Peter Timms and Dr. Adam Polkinghorne. While previous trials of the vaccine involved captive koalas, the field trial over the past year has involved wild koalas roaming in their natural habitat in the Moreton Bay region north of Brisbane.

Project partners have included the Queensland University of Technology, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Moreton Bay Regional Council, City of Gold Coast, Endeavour Veterinary Ecology, Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, Friends of the Koala (NSW Northern Rivers), the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads and the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

Sixty koalas captured as part of this tagging and monitoring program were included in the trial, with 30 animals receiving the vaccine and 30 remaining unvaccinated as a control group. All 60 koalas were fitted with radio collars so they could be monitored.

Prof. Timms said the vaccinated animals all showed good immune responses to the vaccine and, importantly, decreased chlamydia infection levels compared with the unvaccinated controls.

“This large trial has confirmed that the vaccine is safe to give to not only captive koalas, but also koalas in the wild,” he said.

“While these results are very promising, the trial will extend for at least another year. We hope to specifically show a positive effect of the vaccine on disease, not just infection, as well as female reproductive rates.”

Professor Timms said his team was keen to evaluate the vaccine on further koala populations threatened by chlamydial disease, but would require additional funds.

“We feel compelled to start using this vaccine more broadly, especially when we know that it is safe and has some definite positive benefit to the animals,” he said. “But a project of this size and cost requires a large team of people, including veterinarians and field teams, in addition to the laboratory aspects.”

State Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the Queensland Government had provided A$358,000 (~US$312,000) towards the research as part of a range of koala protection programs and congratulated the team on its success.

“Chlamydia is one of the major threats to our koala populations and that’s why we’ve invested significant funds into combating this disease,” he said. “Among other things, chlamydia in koalas can lead to blindness and infertility, so it’s clear why we need to support research that can stem these conditions.”


Source: University of the Sunshine Coast; Photo: Nikki Mannix/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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