Scientific Programme

Scientific focus
The research tasks to be addressed by the Action will be implemented using two approaches: (1) vertical activities, focused on Working Groups (WGs) 1-4; and (2) horizontal events, involving trans-WG activities and the activity of WG5.
The vertical research tasks
The vertical approach will be centred on each WG, namely the implementation of concepts and methodologies in the research, diagnosis and surveillance of vectors and VBPs and diseases: WG1 (“One Health” concept), WG2 (Barcoding, molecular diagnosis and next generation sequencing), WG3 (GIS and spatial modelling) and WG4 (Phylogenetics and phylogeography). The activities of WG1 will be aligned to ecological concepts and research methodologies involving elements from both human and veterinary sciences as well as medical ecology and environmental management. The use of standardized terminology is another important of task of this WG. The scientific tasks of WG2, WG3 and WG4 are to find the best modern laboratory tools and techniques and to implement them in a standardized way in the study of human and animal VBDs. WG2 will focus on the three modern genomic methods: sequencing-by-synthesis (454/Roche platform), DNA ligase technique (SOLiD platform) and the Illumina technology (HiSeq platform) as well as barcoding and MALDI. The tasks of WG3 and WG4 are all focused on software-based technologies, in order to properly use and interpret the data obtained through the methodologies of WG1 and WG2.
The horizontal research tasks
The experts included in this COST Action have compiled a list of neglected topics related to vectors and human zoonotic VBPs considered relevant for Europe. All of these topics will be considered by WGs 1-4 during their vertical tasking. The list of neglected topics (which is flexible and certainly not exhaustive) includes:
• Ticks and tick-borne pathogens: (1) Ecology, distribution and surveillance of tick-borne viruses: tick-borne encephalitis virus, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus; (2) Ecology, distribution and surveillance of tick-borne rickettsiae from genera Rickettsia, Neorickettsia, Ehrlichia, Anaplasma and Wolbachia; (3) Ecology, distribution and surveillance of other important tick-borne bacteria: Coxiella burnetii, Francisella tularensis; (4) Genetic diversity and host specificity of piroplasms with relation to human health; (5) Vectorial role of ticks in the transmission of Bartonella; (6) Vectorial role of common but neglected ticks from Europe: Ixodes hexagonus, I. trianguliceps, I. arboricola, Haemaphysalis punctata, H. concinna, H. inermis, Dermacentor marginatus and Rhipicephalus sanguineus for human TBPs.
• Dipterans and dipteran-borne pathogens: (1) Sandflies (Phlebotomus spp.) and zoonotic sandfly-borne pathogens (Leishmania and Phlebovirus): emergence, ecology and wildlife reservoirs; (2) Mosquitoes as vectors, expansion to the north of the thermophilic species Aedes albopictus and Culex modestus and the risk of associated pathogen emergence (i.e. Dengue fever virus, Chikungunya virus, West Nile virus etc.); (3) Role of biting midges (genus Culicoides) as vectors of human and animal infections in Europe; (4) Vector-borne nematodes in Europe (Dirofilaria repens, D. immitis, Setaria spp.): clinical significance and awareness.
• Fleas and flea-borne pathogens: (1) The plague caused by Yersinia pestis and its transmission pattern to people by the Oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis; (2) Bartonelloses (focusing on cat scratch disease and bacillary angiomatosis) caused by several Bartonella species including Bartonella henselae, transmitted by the faeces of the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis; (3) Spotted fever caused by Rickettsia felis and transmitted by C. felis; (4) Murine typhus caused by Rickettsia typhi and transmitted by X. cheopis; (5) The infection with the cestode Dipylidium caninum transmitted by various flea species; (6) The infection with the nematode Acanthocheilonema reconditum transmitted by various flea species.
There are many other neglected zoonotic VBPs occurring in Europe or neighbouring regions; they are suspected to be relatively uncommon or to have limited clinical and social importance. An exhaustive list cannot be given here due to the limits of the space available, but relevant examples include tick-borne viruses (i.e. Alkhurma virus, Bhanja virus, Erve virus, Thogoto virus, Dhori virus, Tribec virus, Tettnang virus, Eyach virus), tick-borne bacteria (relapsing fever Borrelia spp.) or various mosquito-borne viruses (Gratz 2006). The knowledge about their clinical significance and real territorial distribution is very scarce. Hence, the task of WG5 (Rare and emerging VBPs) will be to identify and disseminate all relevant information about such pathogens and to distribute all these data through the other WGs.
Scientific work plan - methods and means
The methods to be used for achieving the aims, objectives and for implementing the task of the Action in general and of each WG in particular are:
1. Annual meetings of each WG. During these meetings, WG members will discuss all the required strategies for achievement of the aims and objectives of the Action. The meetings will be always during the AC, to minimize travel costs and time.
2. The EurNegVec Annual Conference (AC) and Workshops. An AC will be organized each year. The scientific programme of each AC will include only independent sessions, so all participants can attend in order to achieve interdisciplinarity. Two categories of participants will be included: COST members (with grant) and non-COST members (without participation grant). During each AC, workshops will be organized by the WGs.
3. The EurNegVec young scientist mobility scheme. The mobility scheme organized within this Action is targeted exclusively on early-stage researchers, considering both definitions: by EURAXESS (researchers in the first four years of their research activity, including researchers in their research training stage) and by COST (less than PhD + 8 years). The mobility scheme will include two types of in-Action grants: the Short Term Scientific Mission (STSMs) and the Training Schools (TSs). The STSMs will aim to improve the exchange of knowledge between laboratories from different COST countries or other approved countries or institutions and to strengthen the existing networks. The STSM Assessment Committee, consisting of one member from each WG plus the Chair of the Management Committee (MC) will coordinate the related activities. The STSM Assessment Committee will be responsible for organizing and approving the STSMs each year. As a general rule, the TSs with focus on practical and field training will be preferred. Prior to the proposal, each participant will be informed on the selection criteria and application procedure and rules (according to COST Vademecum/Handbook). In principle, one TS per year will be approved by the MC and
will be forwarded to the COST Office. The duration of each TS will be in general one week. As a rule TS tutors will be selected from the Action’s members (including non-COST countries), but in justified cases, external tutors may be considered.
4. The EurNegVec publication series. The EurNegVec publication series will include printed and online versions of: (1) books; (2) special journal issues; (3) guidelines; (4) brochures. The Editorial Board (EB) within the MC will be responsible for this task. A book, produced by an international publisher, will be published. Its tentative topic/title (Vector-Borne Diseases in Europe: a One Health approach) requires an editor-author system with the participation of the vast majority of the involved experts. External authors may be invited. The book will be published in the final year of the Action. Special issues or supplements with invited reviews or conference proceedings will be published annually in peer-reviewed journals. In the final year of the Action, a General Guideline for standardized diagnosis and surveillance of vectors and vectors-borne diseases will be produced and published. Each year, WGs will be responsible for the design of specific brochures and fliers which will be distributed by post and by email to laboratories worldwide.
5. The website. The website will include a section with general detailed information about the Action (aims, objectives, benefits, scientific programme, participating countries and experts, organization, timetable and dissemination plan) and specific sections dedicated to each WGs, to STSMs, the ACs and workshops and TSs. Additional sections will be considered for posting related news, minutes of the MC meetings, publications, relevant links, polls, forums etc. Specific content will be decided within each WG. The website will include specific sections, instructions and links for online application for STSMs. After each STSM and each TS, all participating young scientists will be responsible for posting on the website (via the webmaster) a short activity report from the training stage. The Conference Organizing Committee (COC) will conceive a brief report about each AC which will be posted on the website by the webmaster. The COC will be also responsible for making available on the website the scientific content of each AC. Each participant in the action will be responsible for posting on the website (via the webmaster) his/her Europass Curriculum Vitae including relevant contact details (email, postal address) list of publications and research interest. The MC members from each country will be responsible for updating national information relevant to the Action’s topic (on-going research projects, news, relevant available employment or research positions, etc.). The webmaster will be responsible for search engine optimization (i.e. Google PageRank). The website’s general structure can be updated if necessary with the approval of the MC.