Vector-borne diseases are illnesses transmitted via blood-sucking arthropods, namely mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, lice, and biting flies or mites. These diseases are a tremendous public health burden worldwide. Mosquito-borne pathogens alone—such as Malaria, West Nile, Dengue fever and yellow fever—infect hundreds of millions of people per year, with more than a billion people at risk for these illnesses. The most common vector-borne diseases in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health, are carried by mosquitoes and ticks and include Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, West Nile Virus, and Eastern equine encephalitis.
With this in mind, and in accordance with Virginia Tech’s strategic plan to become a preeminent center for excellence in vector-borne disease, the Fralin Life Science Institute assisted with the creation of the Vector-Borne Disease Research Group in 2005. Fralin funds were used to acquire the equipment and expertise needed to build a strong, cohesive research program. Today, approximately a dozen faculty members from the departments of chemistry, biochemistry and entomology are involved with the group. They and their students work to elucidate the fundamental mechanisms involved in the transmission and pathogenesis of vector-borne infectious organisms and to lead the search for novel approaches to disease mitigation. Much of this research takes place in Fralin Hall, where a full-scale insectary, complete with warm room, dissection microscope and other essential equipment is located.