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Articles categorized as ‘James Cook University Science Programs’

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Deal opens Galapagos Islands to James Cook University

James Cook University staff and students will have the opportunity to study in the crucible of evolutionary theory, the Galapagos Islands, under a new agreement.

Deal opens Galapagos Islands to James Cook University

Signing the agreement in Quito. Left to right: Professor Diego Quioroga, Vice-President of Research and External Affairs, Universidad San Francisco de Quito; Professor Terry Magnuson, VC for Research, University of North Carolina; Professor Iain Gordon, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Tropical Environments and Societies, JCU (Photo credit: JCU)

The agreement allows JCU staff and students access to the Galapagos Science Centre: a world-class research and teaching facility on the Galapagos Island of San Cristobal, which is globally recognised as a pristine, unique ecosystem.

JCU’s Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Division of Tropical Environments and Societies, Professor Iain Gordon, signed the Galapagos Marine Science Consortium Agreement at a ceremony in Quito, Ecuador last month.

Professor Gordon said the intent is for JCU to collaborate with partner universities in areas of research and teaching with a focus on the Galapagos Islands.

“The Galapagos Islands are iconic for their part in shaping Darwin’s ideas on evolution. As with the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics, the Galapagos Islands are recognised by the United Nations as a World Heritage Area. Today, however, they are under unprecedented pressure from development and tourism.

“This partnership, with two world-class universities, will allow our researchers and students to study the human and environmental issues associated with conservation and sustainable development on the islands.

“We will also help build the capacity of Ecuador’s researchers and provide advice to the Ecuadorian Government as to how to manage this unique archipelago,” said Professor Gordon.

He said that, in the first instance, there is also great scope for JCU intensive courses to be run on San Cristobal and adjacent islands in the Galapagos group.

The arrangement will run for the next two years.

James Cook University’s major partners in the Galapagos Marine Science Consortium are the University of San Francisco Quito (Ecuador) and the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill). Minor partners are the University of the Sunshine Coast and University of Brunei daar Salam.

The partner universities will collaborate based on their specialities; i.e., UNC has advanced genomic facilities and USFQ has local knowledge of the biodiversity and logistics. Each year there will be collaborative cruises among the islands for researchers and students from the different universities.

JCU College of Marine and Environmental Sciences

As part of the Division of Tropical Environments and Societies, the College of Marine and Environmental Sciences promotes, fosters, supports and administers quality teaching and research at JCU in the areas of marine biology, environment, geography and sustainability, aquaculture and fisheries, and terrestrial ecosystems.

Marine science is the interdisciplinary study of the marine environment bringing together elements of marine biology, oceanography, marine geoscience and environmental management. Marine scientists explore the make-up and dynamics of the world’s oceans and use their skills to investigate and manage human impacts on the marine environment; understand and utilise ocean resources; and manage and protect our marine reserves.

JCU’s location in the tropics allows students and research staff ready access to a wide variety of tropical marine systems including coral reefs, tropical estuaries, mangrove habitats and seagrass beds. Links between research and teaching programs ensure that students are at the cutting edge of marine research.

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Are you interested in marine science? Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com for more information about environmental sciences degrees available at James Cook University!

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

James Cook University helps see horror disease defeated

James Cook University scientists have played a part in a program that has seen lymphatic filariasis (LF)—also known as elephantiasis—eliminated from four countries.

After more than two decades of effort, Cambodia, The Cook Islands, Niue and Vanuatu have eliminated LF as a public health problem.

Two decades of work sees horror disease defeated

Elephantiasis sufferer, Papua New Guinea (Photo credit: Tom Burkot)

LF can lead to lymphoedema, elephantiasis and hydrocoele—huge swelling of the limbs and genitals of sufferers. It’s caused by parasitic worms transmitted between humans by mosquitoes, a process that has now been effectively interrupted.

Approximately 40 million people suffer from the disease, including 15 million who have full-blown lymphoedema (elephantiasis) and 25 million men who have urogenital swelling.

JCU scientists developed an efficient diagnostic test for the disease, enabling effective targeting and supported ongoing training and surveillance to prevent new infections.

JCU’s Professor Peter Leggat said LF is one of the most debilitating of the neglected tropical diseases.

“Elimination of LF is the result of the sustained efforts of many groups including the countries involved and international agencies including the WHO Collaborating Centre at James Cook University, established in 1996. These efforts provide inspiration to eliminate this disease from the world,” he said.

The four countries that have eliminated the disease join China and the Republic of Korea as the only countries in the WHO Western Pacific Region to eliminate LF as a public health problem.

During 2000–2012, more than 4.45 billion doses of medicine were delivered worldwide. It’s estimated that 96.71 million LF cases were prevented or cured during this period.

The overall economic benefit of the programme during 2000–2007 is conservatively estimated at US$ 24 billion.

WHO Collaborating Centre

James Cook University has been involved with supporting control of neglected tropical diseases since the initial designation of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre (WHOCC) in 1996. It has through various re-designations and broadened its outreach from lymphatic filariasis alone to include soil-transmitted helminthiasis and then other neglected tropical diseases. It has been supported by the Anton Breinl Centre for Public Health and Tropical Medicine until 2012 and then by the School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences. In 2014, it was formally incorporated in the new College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences at JCU.

Studying medicine at JCU

The Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) medical degree at JCU Medical School produces graduates who will be uniquely qualified in the fields of rural, remote and Indigenous health, and tropical medicine. The JCU MBBS degree aspires to what is described by the World Health Organization as “socially accountable medical education—a medical school accepting its obligation to direct education, research and service to priority health concerns of communities that it has a mandate to serve.”

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Would you like more information about studying tropical medicine at JCU Medical School? Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Medical Schools Admissions Officer Courtney Frank at courtney@oztrekk.com!

Monday, May 30th, 2016

JCU research leader wins top science honour

One of James Cook University’s top researchers has received Australia’s most prestigious science honour, the fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science.

JCU research leader wins top science honour

Australian Academy of Science Fellow, Distinguished Professor David Bellwood (Photo: Richard Davis, JCU Media)

The Academy announced the election of Distinguished Professor David Bellwood as Fellow for his sustained and significant contributions to Australian science.

Professor Bellwood is the fifth JCU professor to be elected to the Academy. He said it’s an honour to join the elite, 500-strong Fellowship.

“It’s a wonderful feeling. I’m delighted to be part of a fellowship that includes so many people that I admire and respect. It’s an absolute treat!”

Professor Bellwood is a leading expert on the evolution and ecology of reef fishes. The central theme of his research is to understand the functional role that fishes play on coral reefs, and how reefs have changed through evolutionary time.

David Bellwood said he has always been fascinated by marine life.

“Coral reefs are one of the most important ecosystems in the world. In Australia they’re worth billions of dollars to our economy, and around the world millions of people rely on coral reefs for a source of nutrition and income.

“For me, I like to look at fishes as machines. I like to see the way they operate and this gives us a new understanding of how reefs are working.”

He said one of the best parts of his job is to teach the next generation of scientists.

“The world is changing and we’ve got a lot of environmental problems and coral reefs are particularly vulnerable. What we need to be able to do is to give the next generation the tools that they’re going to need to be able to cope with these changes.

“One of my main goals is to give future students, future researchers, the confidence to question and to think for themselves because we’re going to need to be innovative, imaginative and bold if we’re going to address the problems that we currently face,” Professor Bellwood said.

JCU College of Marine and Environmental Sciences

As part of the Division of Tropical Environments and Societies, the College of Marine and Environmental Sciences promotes, fosters, supports and administers quality teaching and research at JCU in the areas of marine biology, environment, geography and sustainability, aquaculture and fisheries, and terrestrial ecosystems.

Marine science is the interdisciplinary study of the marine environment bringing together elements of marine biology, oceanography, marine geoscience and environmental management. Marine scientists explore the make-up and dynamics of the world’s oceans and use their skills to investigate and manage human impacts on the marine environment; understand and utilise ocean resources; and manage and protect our marine reserves.

JCU’s location in the tropics allows students and research staff ready access to a wide variety of tropical marine systems including coral reefs, tropical estuaries, mangrove habitats and seagrass beds. Links between research and teaching programs ensure that students are at the cutting edge of marine research.

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Are you interested in marine science? Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com for more information about environmental sciences degrees available at James Cook University!

Monday, March 21st, 2016

JCU helps eastern quolls to return to the mainland

A senior James Cook University academic is helping catch eastern quolls in Tasmania as part of a project to bring the animal back to the mainland after more than 60 years of extinction.

JCU Sciences

Eastern quoll (Photo credit: JCU)

Professor Iain Gordon, JCU’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Division of Tropical Environments and Societies, said the animals will be released into the Mulligans Flat woodland sanctuary near Canberra.

“These first individuals will form part of a long-term project to restore the native small mammal community that used to thrive in this area,” he said.

Quolls were once widespread in south-eastern Australia, but were wiped out by introduced foxes and cats, disease, habitat loss and human intervention. Tasmania is now the only place the animal can be found in the wild.

Professor Gordon said Australia holds the dubious honour of having lost many of its small mammal species from the mainland since European settlement. “We’ve been involved in restoring many species into a protected area in the ACT; now it’s time to reintroduce the quoll, a small predator that is in effect at the top of the food chain, when cats and foxes are kept at bay.”

Eastern quolls were last seen in the Sydney region in 1956. They have not been seen in the Canberra region for 80 years.

Professor Adrian Manning from the Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society said it was the first such translocation of wild eastern quolls on the Australian mainland.

“Our aim is not just to establish a healthy and diverse population of eastern quolls but also to undertake critical research to understand the best way to introduce the species to improve success in future reintroductions on the mainland,” he said.

The quolls are fitted with radio-tracking collars to allow researchers to do regular health checks and monitor their breeding and habitat requirements.

The eastern quoll reintroduction is part of a $1.8 million Australian Research Council Linkage Project Bringing back biodiversity—a research partnership between the ACT Government, ANU, CSIRO and James Cook University.

The Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water and the Environment and the Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre are major partners in the translocation project. The Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary is managed in partnership between the ACT Government and the Woodland and Wetland Trust.

Master of Science (Tropical Biology and Conservation)

In this 1.5-year JCU science program, all aspects of theoretical and applied ecology are considered, making full use of the wide variety of natural tropical environments surrounding JCU including savannahs, rainforests, wetlands, and coastal marine habitats.

These tropical biology programs offer a wide range of electives. Students can structure their courses to specialize in the ecology of rainforests, savannah, tropical freshwater systems, tropical wildlife, or tropical insects.

Entry requirements: Completion of a Bachelor of Science

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Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston for more information about environmental sciences and science degrees available at James Cook University! Email Shannon at shannon@oztrekk.com or call 1-866-698-7355 (toll free in Canada).

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

JCU studies sea turtle bycatch

A James Cook University study has called for a change in the way we manage bycatch—the capture of species not targeted—to better monitor the unintentional catching of sea turtles by commercial fishers.

JCU marine science

Turtle on the Great Barrier Reef. (C) Matt Curnock

JCU’s Kimberly Riskas led a project that examined more than 10 years of records on turtle bycatch.

“Turtle habitat often spans multiple management jurisdictions. But most fisheries management agencies will monitor bycatch within a single fishery or a single year, without adding records together to determine how many turtles are being caught in total,” she said.

Ms Riskas said the findings show a need for bycatch records to be pooled across fisheries and states, as well as over time, to better measure the effect on turtles.

She said the number of turtles caught in a single fishery or year may not seem to be a cause for concern, but even low levels might place pressure on a species when considered across fisheries and over multiple years.

Ms Riskas said the existing approach to managing turtle bycatch does not go far enough to protect turtles.

“Our results show how important it is for management agencies to take the next step in their reporting and analysis protocols. It is essential to analyse bycatch at the population scale and across fisheries; otherwise, we’re missing the bigger picture of how bycatch affects long-lived species.”

She said a possible solution would be a central database for reporting and collecting bycatch data, which would allow the identification of areas of concern.

“On a global scale, bycatch is one of the most serious threats to the survival of sea turtles, and the more we can combine our monitoring and mitigation efforts, the greater the chance that we can improve the situation before it’s too late.”

About Marine Biology at JCU

The JCU School of Marine and Tropical Biology is the first university in Australia to offer specialized training in marine biology. It has earned an international reputation for excellence in both teaching and research and takes a field-oriented, hands-on approach to its teaching and research endeavours.

The school’s location in the tropics allows students and research staff ready access to a wide variety of tropical marine systems including coral reefs, tropical estuaries, mangrove habitats and seagrass beds. Links between JCU’s research and teaching programs ensure that students are at the cutting edge of marine research.

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Are you interested in studying marine biology at James Cook University? Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at 1-866-698-7355 or shannon@oztrekk.com.

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

‘Twilight zone’ fish swim silently with forked tails

An international team of researchers has identified a way to predict which reef fish can live across a greater range of depths, from shallow depths to the mesophotic or “twilight zone,” increasing their chances of surviving natural disasters such as cyclones and coral bleaching.

Study lead author, Dr Tom Bridge from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, says the research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that tail shape can help predict if a fish is likely to exist across a range of water depths.

JCU Sciences

Photo: Dr Tom Bridge

“We thought that the ability to see in deep, dark waters would influence which fish could live in both shallow and deep habitats; however, we found that the ‘caudal fin aspect ratio,’ which measures the shape of the fish’s tail, is the best predictor of which fish can live in both sun-drenched shallows and the ‘twilight zone’,” Dr Bridge says.

“In other words, fishes with more forked tails are significantly more likely to be found in both shallow and deep habitats than species with more rounded tails.”

Dr Bridge says it’s not known exactly why this is the case, though it’s suspected that the forked tail allows fish to swim more silently.

“The capacity for ‘stealth swimming’ is particularly important in deeper habitats, where light irradiance and wave energy are low and species rely on sensing changes in water pressure to capture prey and avoid predators.”

Coral reefs are typically thought to occur in shallow, sun-lit waters, but new technology is revealing that reefs in the ocean’s ‘twilight zone’—50–150 m deep—support diverse and unique communities.

However, conditions on these deep reefs can be challenging for coral reef fishes, with low light, high pressure, and low temperatures.

Study co-author, Dr Osmar Luiz from Macquarie University says species that can survive in the twilight zone may be less susceptible to population declines and extinction.

“Identifying which species can occur over a broad depth range is important for understanding which fish are more vulnerable to local population declines and extinction, particularly from disturbances such as cyclones and coral bleaching events.”

The researchers say the next step is to understand exactly what it is about the forked tails that provides fishes with such an advantage in deeper water.

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Are you interested in studying marine biology at James Cook University or marine science programs at Macquarie University? Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355 for more information.

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

JCU team rate cyclone protection barrier

James Cook University researchers have discovered just how much protection locally available plywood provides against cyclone debris.

The low-cost timber is commonly secured to window frames by nailing or other fastening methods in order to protect glass in a storm.

JCU team rate cyclone protection barrier

Debris simulator at JCU’s Cyclone Testing Station (Photo credit: JCU)

Now JCU’s Nimesh Fernando and Ben Vincent, using the university’s wind-borne debris generator at its Cyclone Testing Station, have established exactly how much a plywood barrier can take.

The pair bought 17mm-thick standard plywood from a hardware chain and fired 4kg blocks of wood at it with increasing speeds.

“It will resist debris typically produced by a category two cyclone,” said Mr Fernando. “Based on experimentation, we wouldn’t recommend local plywood for anything above that.”

The pair found standard plywood was pierced by the wood block projectile at any speed over 14 metres per second—around 50 kmh.

“Based on Australian Standards, it would take a wind speed of 120 or 130 kmh, which is typical for a category two storm, to pick up such an object and project it at 50kmh,” said Mr Fernando.

He said heavier plywood would provide more protection. “We didn’t specifically model or test it, but we anticipate that a higher grade marine plywood should protect from debris produced by a low category three storm.”

The James Cook University researchers used 17mm thick plywood with a strength rating of F11 in their experiments. Buyers can see the standard ‘f-grade’ rating marked on the wood sold in hardware stores. “The greater the F-number, the better,” said Mr Fernando.

He said the most important outcome of the experiment was progress in corroborating the physical results with a computer model which could be used to evaluate other plywood and projectiles.

“We validated the simulations with newly acquired physical test data. There are some improvements to be made, but we have created the platform for future impact testing of debris shields.

“To simulate realistic damage characteristics of plywood was a great achievement.

“The benefit of the numerical method developed as part of this project is its capacity to test different species, thickness and sizes of plywood for any projectile by modelling, rather than having to repeat the expensive and time consuming physical testing.”

Mr Fernando said almost any protection was better than none. “Even in the cases where the projectile passed through the plywood it had lost 80 percent of its velocity by the time it reached the other side.”

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Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston for more information about science degrees available at James Cook University! Email Shannon at shannon@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

JCU researchers study diet to combat schizophrenia

Research by James Cook University scientists has found a diet favoured by body-builders may be effective in treating schizophrenia.

Associate Professor Zoltan Sarnyai and his research group from JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) have discovered that feeding mice a ketogenic diet, which is high on fat but very low on carbohydrates (sugars), leads to fewer animal behaviours that resemble schizophrenia.

James Cook University Medical School

Chart of some effects of the ketogenic diet on mice (Image credit: JCU)

The ketogenic diet has been used since the 1920s to manage epilepsy in children and more recently as a weight loss diet preferred by some body builders.

Dr Sarnyai believes the diet may work by providing alternative energy sources in the form of so-called ketone bodies (products of fat breakdown) and by helping to circumvent abnormally functioning cellular energy pathways in the brains of schizophrenics.

“Most of a person’s energy would come from fat. So the diet would consist of butter, cheese, salmon, etc. Initially it would be used in addition to medication in an in-patient setting where the patient’s diet could be controlled,” he said.

Schizophrenia is a devastating, chronic mental illness that affects nearly one per cent of people worldwide. There is no cure and medications used to alleviate it can produce side effects such as movement disorder, weight gain and cardiovascular disease.

But if the research findings can be translated into the effective management of schizophrenia they may offer a secondary benefit, too.

The group’s paper, published online in the leading journal Schizophrenia Research, also shows mice on a ketogenic diet weigh less and have lower blood glucose levels than mice fed a normal diet.

“It’s another advantage that it works against the weight gain, cardiovascular issues and type-two diabetes we see as common side-effects of drugs given to control schizophrenia,” said Dr Sarnyai.

The JCU researchers will now test their findings in other animal schizophrenia models as they explore a possible clinical trial.

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Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston for more information about science degrees and research degrees available at James Cook University. Email  Shannon at shannon@oztrekk.com or call toll free at 1-866-698-7355.

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

JCU scientist finds marine debris travels far

Rubbish dumped at sea off Townsville will end up on the popular Mission Beach holiday spot, while Cairns’ marine trash goes straight to the exclusive Port Douglas resort—according to new computer modelling by a James Cook University scientist.

JCU environmental sciences

Marine debris recovered during a beach clean-up (Photo credit: JCU)

JCU’s Kay Critchell fed local wind and tide data into the state-of-the-art SLIM modelling system. She then tracked drift patterns for an average-sized plastic water bottle that found its way into Townsville’s Ross River or Cairns’ Trinity Inlet, or was dumped at sea along the Great Barrier Reef.

Rubbish from the Ross River washed ashore in the northern beachside suburb of Pallarenda, while plastic from Trinity Inlet headed for Port Douglas. The model showed plastic debris from a shipping lane off Townsville’s Magnetic Island would land on the popular Mission Beach, about halfway between Cairns and Townsville.

Ms Critchell said the findings were consistent: “For floating plastic the big driver was the wind. The main collection points were south or southeast facing beaches and those in close proximity to a river mouth.”

She said with limited resources available to beach clean-up crews, it’s important their activities are targeted. “According to this study, the best use of their time would be to patrol beaches facing south or southeast after a big high tide or storm.”

She said there were major differences between the respective ranges of waste that entered the ocean from rivers and that which came from shipping lanes. “The average distance travelled from a river mouth is 18.8 kilometres, from shipping sources it’s 225 kilometres.”

Ms Critchell said while the Ross River was not the Ganges, it isn’t a terribly good environment either.

“I spent Friday with a group on the river bank along the shallows and we filled a truck with rubbish from the river in five hours. And there was plenty we couldn’t get.”

She said the main thing to remember was that environments can be restored.

“We can use things like rubbish collection booms in the shallows that trap rubbish but have a low impact on marine life, we can use waterwheels that scoop plastic waste out of the rivers, but these things take effort and are expensive.

“What is most important is that the rubbish not get into the environment in the first place. It really comes down to personal responsibility—people disposing of their rubbish properly. It’s a huge and growing issue, but it’s not hopeless.”

The next phase of the study will examine what happens to debris when it’s washed out to sea again from its original destination beach.

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Want to learn more about studying environmental sciences programs at JCU? Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

New grant expands JCU hookworm treatment

A James Cook University scientist and a medical doctor will study a revolutionary treatment for a debilitating illness that affects hundreds of thousands of Australians.

JCU science degrees

Close-up of a hookworm (Image credit: JCU)

Dr John Croese, an adjunct professor at JCU and a gastroentologist at The Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane, and Dr Paul Giacomin, a scientist at JCU’s Cairns Campus, have been awarded more than $860,000 by the National Health and Medical Research Council to study the treatment of coeliac disease using hookworms.

Coeliac disease makes the immune system react abnormally to gluten and results in damage to the small bowel. It affects one out of every 70 Australians.

“Symptoms of coeliac disease vary, with the most common being gastrointestinal upsets. Others symptoms, some more severe, may include fatigue, anaemia, unexplained weight loss or gain, bone or joint pains and swelling of the mouth or tongue,” Dr Croese said.

Forty patients will be injected with hookworm larvae as a follow-up to a pilot study that suggested the parasite is effective in treating coeliac disease.

A smaller number of participants in the earlier trial were infected with 20 Necator americanus (hookworm) larvae. They were then given gradually increasing doses of gluten, beginning with just one-tenth of a gram per day (the equivalent of a two-centimetre segment of spaghetti) and increasing in two further stages to a final daily dose of three grams (75 spaghetti straws).

By the end of the trial, the patients were eating the equivalent of a medium-sized bowl of spaghetti—a meal that would usually bring on diarrhoea, cramps and vomiting.

“The gut becomes more accepting of different foods,” said Dr Croese. “It’s the most exciting development I am aware of in the treatment of coeliac disease.”

Participants in the new trial will have their gluten levels elevated far above those in the pilot study as they progress towards eating a normal diet.

Hookworms do not breed within the human body so there is no chance of the parasite multiplying to dangerous numbers.

Scientists believe the key to the hookworms’ anti-inflammatory prowess lies within the proteins that the worms secrete. Work will continue on isolating the protein, but in the interim it is thought a treatment for coeliacs will involve infecting sufferers with the whole hookworm.

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Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Rachel Brady for more information about science degrees available at James Cook University! Email Rachel at rachel@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.