BRISBANE, Australia — A U.S. Army-run laboratory on an Australian military base is helping protect troops from mosquito-borne diseases in tropical environments such as the training areas used in this month’s Talisman Sabre exercise Down Under.
The lab was set up by Capt. Jennifer Kooken, 34, of Derry, N.H., a microbiologist with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. She has been working at the Australian Defence Force’s Malaria and Infectious Disease Institute on Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane for the past year.
The institute is charged with preventing the spread, to servicemembers, of insect-borne diseases and understanding and treating those diseases, she said.
U.S. Army officers have worked at the institute since 1984 but the laboratory is Kooken’s pet project.
Equipped with $500,000 worth of new sample trays, pipettes, beakers, a gene sequencer and a work bench with a protective glass screen to stop samples from getting contaminated, the lab is an important tool for protecting troops in places that might have unique insect-borne health threats, Kooken said during a tour of the facility Saturday.
“We’re trying to set up a surveillance station for the Indo-Pacific region,” she said. “The Australian Defence Force sends troops to South Pacific islands. We want to find out what diseases they encounter there.”
Kooken, one of 91 Army microbiologists worldwide, can test blood samples from deployed troops to check for 30 insect-borne diseases endemic to the Indo-Pacific.
Things she can test for include Lyme disease, scrub typhus, Yellow River virus, Japanese encephalitis, Ross River virus and malaria.
“When our soldiers encounter any of these diseases there can be an immediate impact on force readiness and ability to complete the mission,” she said. “We need to know and understand what potential health threats will be encountered during training exercises and deployments all around the world.”