ICMR-Vector Control Research Centre is a premier institution of the Indian Council of Medical Research, under the Department of Health Research, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India. Established in 1975, VCRC has traversed four and a half decades of a remarkable journey in the fields of vectors and vector-borne diseases (VBDs), all of which, together put ~90% of the population of India at risk.
ICMR-VCRC headquarter at Puducherry and its field stations at Madurai, Koraput and Kottayam are actively researching on several aspects of VBDs. The VBDs addressed are malaria, filariasis, scrub typhus, tick typhus, Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD), Japanese encephalitis, dengue, chikungunya, visceral and cutaneous leishmaniasis. Over the decades, VCRC has been facilitating the National Vector Borne Diseases Control Programme (NVBDCP) in shaping the policies for vector-borne disease control / elimination and in providing robust monitoring and evaluation tools/ strategies for making programmatic decisions.
ICMR-VCRC has played a major role in the lymphatic filariasis (LF) elimination programme both nationally and internationally. Some of the major areas of research are development, application of evaluation of tools (drugs, diagnostics, intervention, mathematical models) and strategies (delivery, sampling) to generate evidence base and address operational issues related to implementation, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of national LF elimination programme. Mathematical models have been developed and applied for creating geo-environment-based risk maps, optimizing intervention tools, assessing required duration of control, developing surveillance strategies for programme monitoring and evaluation. Sampling strategies have been developed for molecular xeno-moniotoring of infection for post-MDA surveillance, mapping and remapping areas endemic for LF. Currently, ICMR-VCRC is formulating and piloting a M&E protocol for accelerated MDA (Mass Drug Administration) with IDA (Ivermectin, Diethylcarbamazine and Albendazole) for LF elimination programme at Yadgiri and Simdega Districts. Once tested, the M&E framework will be implemented nationally and internationally.
Recently, the ICMR-VCRC has embarked upon an ambitious programme for implementation of new tools (Wolbachia pipientis) for dengue control. The laboratory studies are progressing well and field piloting of this technology will be taken up shortly in Puducherry. Through the extensive research, ICMR-VCRC scientists provided evidence that scrub typhus transmission was the major contributor to acute encephalitic syndrome (AES) in Gorakhpur district, Uttar Pradesh. The mite Leptotrombidium deliense was the predominant vector of rickettsia, O. tsutsugamushi with high infestation rate of 14.6 per Suncus murinus which was found to be the predominant rodent reservoir of O. tsutsugamushi.
VCRC Koraput Field Station has been conducting research on malaria control especially in southern Odisha since 1985. Inter-alia studies have been carried out on bionomics and control of Anopheles fluviatilis, An.culicifacies and An.minimus, vector resistance to commonly used insecticides and its mechanism and G-6PD deficiency in tribal population. Phase II and III field evaluation of 14 IRS and LLIN products have been undertaken which benefitted the national programme. The Field Station routinely assists the state health authorities by undertaking outbreak and epidemic investigation of JE, dengue and malaria and in the evidence-based control of vector borne diseases and capacity building.
The Kottayam Field Station of VCRC has demonstrated chikungunya and dengue control with integrated vector management (IVM) strategy in rubber plantation areas. In addition, DNA Barcodes of 150 common species of mosquitoes has been achieved. The other significant achievements include reporting of a crucial mutation in the envelope gene of Chikungunya Virus (A226V), which enabled the virus to multiply and disseminate in Ae.albopictus. A new species, Platynectes sahyadriensis (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae), predatory to Aedes albopictus (Diptera: Culicidae) as biological control agent has been discovered. Genetical characterization of all the 4 serotypes of dengue from Kerala, reporting of serotype and genotype shift of DENV (from American/African to Asian type of DENV1) during the outbreak of dengue in Thiruvananthapuram District in 2017 has been observed. The field station has confirmed the involvement of Leishmania donovani in the Cutaneous Leishmaniasis in areas inhabited by the Kani tribal population of the Western Ghats of Kerala, India.
The Madurai Field Station has done extensive work in the understanding of the Mosquito biodiversity in the Western Ghats, the Eastern Ghats, Mangrove forest, Assam, Andaman & Nicobar areas. Five new mosquito species have been described. A mosquito museum containing 242 species and 92,166 specimens is maintained at the Field station much like the museum at the VCRC Hqs. It made a significant contribution in incriminating Ochlerotatus niveus (Aedes niveus) as a vector of sub-periodic bacroftian filariasis in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. JE Surveillance network was established in Tamil Nadu to monitor JE virus activity using desiccated vectors. The isolation methodology of JE virus from mosquito larvae and humans and by using Toxorhynchites splendens mosquitoes by immunofluorescence assay (Toxo- IFA system) was standardized in place of suckling mice. In the rice ecosystem, enhancement of the oviposition of JE vectors by the use of urea was established. The field station demonstrated that the children<5 years had higher antigenaemia clearance when compared to minimal change in youth after a single- dose combination therapy (MDA with DEC+ albendazole). Further, it was established that the combination therapy of DEC+albandazole for filariasis resulted in enhanced efficacy against geohelminths and the magnitude of infestation remained at a significantly low level for about a year after the intervention. The field station standardized method of detection and serotyping of dengue viruses from Aedes vectors using Toxo-IFA system. The methodology was optimized for Dengue virus antigen detection in desiccated specimens of Aedes aegypti.
ICMR-VCRC has set up a GLP facility for evaluation of new vector control product under the aegis of the World Health Organization. Under this initiative, state of art GLP certified modern laboratories are being set up.
ICMR-VCRC has outstanding and dedicated scientists, technical officers and technicians. Their work has been recognised and appreciated nationally and internationally. The institute has to its credit several publications, patents, processes and products. The noteworthy are biopesticides as bio-control agents and their bi-products, chemical insecticides, vector surveillance tools, repellents, diagnostics and drugs. Through NRDC, a ICMR-VCRC product has been commercialized by 20 companies. Scientists and Technologists are continuing their endeavor to innovate new technologies and products which is currently the thrust area of the institute.
ICMR-VCRC is a WHO collaborating Centre for research and training in Lymphatic Filariasis and Integrated Methods of Vector Control. The VCRC has initiated capacity building and strengthening by first starting on campus M.Sc. in Medical Entomology since 1986 which has eventually metamorphosed into M.Sc. Public Health Entomology. This is a unique course under the aegis of the Pondicherry University. Alumni of this course are currently holding key positions in the public health departments, academic and research institutions. Many of them are leading professionals in the industry in India and overseas. The demand for VCRC trained students has been steadily growing over the years. Realizing the need for developing capacity and strengthening of vector science in the country, VCRC has an ambitious plan for Diploma and certificate courses for in-service professionals, which will be started in the near future.
Several public health officials of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan have acquired training at the VCRC. The Centre has an exchange programme with Georgetown University, USA and Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands wherein students regularly visit the institute and carry out research projects on VBDs.
The founding fathers have laid a solid foundation of the VCRC. All my predecessors were renowned scientists of eminence. As Directors, they were instrumental in taking several key initiatives to make what the VCRC is today. Our collective vision and mission are to build on this legacy and make VCRC a hub of innovation and product development in the field of vector surveillance and control, diagnosis, treatment and control/elimination of VBDs.