Vito Colella receives prestigious parasitology award

Dr Vito Colella received the Odile Bain Memorial Prize at the 27th Conference of the World Association for the Advancement of Veterinary Parasitology, which took place 7-11 July 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin, the United States.

The prize is awarded annually by the journal Parasites & Vectors in association with Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, in memory of parasitologist Odile Bain.

Dr Colella joined the University of Melbourne as a McKenzie Postdoctoral Research Fellow in 2019. He is Principal Investigator on a project titled: “Revaluation of the WHO guidelines for the control of hookworm in low income countries in the Asia Pacific through a transdisciplinary approach.”

Dr Vito Colella (left) during fieldwork in Cambodia. Photo: Professor Rebecca Traub.
Dr Vito Colella (left) during fieldwork in Cambodia. Photo: Professor Rebecca Traub.

In this project, Dr Colella and colleagues including Professor Rebecca Traub are evaluating the effectiveness of a One Health intervention to reduce the transmission of soil-transmitted parasitic hookworms in the Asia-Pacific region.

These hookworms include species which can infect both animal and human populations, meaning untreated animals can act as a “reservoir” for the parasites. Hookworm infections can cause iron deficiency, anaemia and protein malnutrition, particularly among children in developing countries.

One Health is an approach to public health that recognises diseases can affect and spread between different species in the environment, with the result that interventions that are limited to individual species or small geographic ranges may be limited in their effectiveness. It involves a variety of professionals collaborating to improve human, animal and environmental health including veterinarians, physicians, nurses, scientists, ecologists, and policymakers.

By examining the effectiveness of a One Health program that treat both animal and human populations in a randomised controlled trial, this project will explore how governments and organisations can reduce (re)infection of humans following treatment.

Its findings will inform future World Health Organisation’s guidelines on strategies to reach elimination of soil-transmitted hookworm infections.

The Head of the Melbourne Veterinary School, Professor Anna Meredith, said the award reflected the public value of Dr Colella’s activities.

“This award recognises Vito’s excellent work and is a superb example of how a collaborative and transdisciplinary One Health approach brings direct benefits to both human and animal health,” she said.

“We were thrilled to have Vito join our team at the Melbourne Veterinary School earlier this year, and through this project on hookworm control, he and his colleagues are making a real difference to health in low income countries in the Asia-Pacific.”

Dr Colella obtained his PhD in Animal Health and Zoonoses at the University of Bari in 2018. His PhD thesis generated novel information on the epidemiology of zoonotic parasites occurring in poorly investigated areas via a multidisciplinary approach which included epidemiology, molecular parasitology, statistics, veterinary and public health.

He has authored or co-authored over 40 articles in peer-reviewed international journals including PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, Scientific Reports, Emerging Infectious Diseases and Trends in Parasitology.

The Odile Bain Memorial Prize was established in recognition of Professor Bain’s outstanding contribution to medical and veterinary parasitology, her actions in encouraging productive collaborations among biologists, veterinarians, physicians, and fundamental and applied parasitologists, worldwide. The award also honours her support to young parasitologists and enthusiasm for parasitology.

Past winners include the Melbourne Veterinary School’s Associate Professor Abdul Jabbar in 2015.

Story by Stuart Winthrope. Banner image: Dr Vito Colella with a Toxocara cati worm, isolated from a domestic cat. This worm can spread between cat and human populations and while symptoms are usually self-limiting, infections can lead to serious complications. Photo: Paul Burston, the University of Melbourne.