Increasing risk of ciguatera fish poisoning in Europe | Flanders Marine Institute
 

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Increasing risk of ciguatera fish poisoning in Europe

Oostend, Belgium (2017.08.30) - Ciguatera is the most significant form of dramatic health problems caused by the consumption of fish worldwide. Its incidence is on the rise due to thriving of poisonous microalgae. The latter flourish due to global warming, coral reef destruction, global trade and tourism. This might pose a risk for temperate seas. Dr. Irina Vetter of the University of Queensland (Australia) is studying the cellular mechanism through which ciguatoxins affect our bodies, which can lead to improved treatment approaches. With this unique research works she won the prestigious Dr. Edouard Delcroix Prize 2016, worth €25,000, and awarded by Hydro and the Flanders Marine Institute.

Press release by: Hydro and the Flanders Marine Institute

Ciguatera is the most common non-bacterial form of fish-borne illness, with an estimated 50,000 to 500,000 global incidences annually. It is caused by the consumption of fish contaminated with ciguatoxins. These toxins originate from benthic dinoflagellates of the genus Gambierdiscus that bloom in tropical and sub-tropical seas (usually between 35° northern and 35° southern latitude) around the world. Consumption of coral and seaweed contaminated with Gambierdiscus by herbivorous fish leads to bioaccumulation of the ciguatoxins through the food chain. Via larger carnivorous fish they are consumed by humans and cause ciguatera.

Communities most affected by ciguatera are those that rely on fish as a major part of their diet (e.g. island nations of the Pacific & Indian Ocean, the Caribbean Sea). However, as the world’s ocean warms and algal blooms become more frequent, ciguatera is now emerging as a significant issue in Asia, America and part of Europe. Recent ciguatera outbreaks in the Canary Islands and an outbreak in northern Germany, the latter due to imported contaminated fish, demonstrate how temperate seas and areas might also be at risk.

Dr. Vetter of the Centre for Pain Research at the University of Queensland (Australia) is studying how ciguatoxins – at a cellular level – activate the sodium channels, causing characteristic neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular symptoms in humans. Although it is known that the ciguatoxins are the most potent sodium channels activators known, the effect on the nine known forms of human voltage-gated sodium channels has never been assessed. Using cone snail venom-derived peptides, she determined the molecular basis of ciguatoxin-induced sodium channel dysfunction. And as no curative treatment is available yet, this research is expected to lead to improved treatment approaches for ciguatera.

“I am very honoured to be recipient of this prize, and that I hope to further raise awareness about this very important marine toxin disease. Although this very important marine toxin disease is the most common non-bacterial food poisoning, ciguatera is often misdiagnosed and there are currently no viable treatment options. In future I hope we can develop improved diagnostic approaches and testing kits that can identify contaminated fish. In that way we hope to reduce the impact this rising issue has on human health.” says Dr. Vetter.

Based upon this research on ‘The pathophysiological mechanism of ciguatera’, Dr. Vetter won the prestigious Dr. Edouard Delcroix Award 2016. This international scientific prize, worth €25,000, has been awarded already for the 8th time to a scientist or team that accomplished groundbreaking research in the field of ‘Ocean and Human Health’. The prize has been established in honour of Dr. Edouard Delcroix (1891-1973), a Belgian orthopedic surgeon and pioneer in thalassotherapy.

For the first time and on top of the award for Dr. Vetter, the organizers will reward one more scientist. The early career researcher Dr. Marjolein Vanoppen (Particle and Interfacial Group, Ghent University) will receive the Dr Edouard Delcroix Incentive Award, with a value of €2,500, for her work on ‘Desalination of sea water’.

Award ceremony open to the press

On Tuesday 5 September 2017 (Ostend Town Hall, 18:30) Dr. Irina Vetter will present her research and receive the award. Hydro VZW and the Flanders Marine Institute VZW are pleased to invite the press to this event.
18:30 - Welcome & registration
19:00 - Opening speech (prof. Jan Mees, general director VLIZ)
19:05 - History of the Dr. Edouard Delcroix Prize (dr Georges Casteur; Hydro vzw)
19:15 - Laudatio of the laureates (prof. Colin Janssen, president scientific committee VLIZ)
19:30 - Presentation of the Dr. Edouard Delcroix Prize 2016 (dr Irina Vetter)
20:00 - Presentation of the Dr. Edouard Delcroix Incentive Award 2016 (dr eng. Marjolein Vanoppen)
20:15 - Handover of the Dr. Edouard Delcroix Prize 2016 (Johan Vande Lanotte, mayor of the city of Ostend)
20:25 - Handover of the Dr. Edouard Delcroix Incentive Award 2016 (dr Stéphane Delcroix, president Hydro vzw)
20:30 - Extensive aperitif, offered by Hydro vzw

Press contacts

•    Irina Vetter ( University of Queensland, Australia) – Tel.: +61-421-559 389 – Email: i.vetter@uq.edu.au  
•    Jan Seys (VLIZ) – Tel.: +32-478-37 64 13 – Email: jan.seys@vliz.be