Boost for icipe malaria reduction efforts
Funding for groundbreaking research on malaria transmission-blocking microbe
1 December 2020: Following discovery by scientists at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (www.icipe.org) that a microbe named Microsporidia MB found in mosquitoes is capable of blocking transmission of malaria from the mosquitoes to people, icipe has been awarded a USD 2.2 million grant by Open Philanthropy (www.openphilanthropy.org). The funds will be used to investigate how the microbe can be spread between mosquitoes, with the goal of using the naturally occurring Microsporidia MB for effective and sustainable malaria control.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), close to half a million people still die every year from malaria, 90% of them in Africa. Between 2000 and 2014, significant progress was made in tackling the disease, and the number of malaria-related deaths fell by an estimated 40%. Vector control programs were credited with most of this reduction in malaria-related deaths, showing the value of preventing infections. However, in recent times, progress has stagnated and the search for new initiatives for control is imperative if progress is to be made to achieve malaria eradication by the year 2040.
The icipe study will be the first in a long time that could open new avenues for widespread control of malaria. The project will advance knowledge in approaches for blocking malaria transmission by interfering with the ability of the Anopheles mosquitoes to transmit malaria-causing Plasmodium parasites.
“Our previous studies showed that Microsporidia MB has impressive malaria transmission-blocking capacity. However, this potential is only useful if the microbe is spread through mosquito populations,” says Dr Jeremy Herren, icipe Scientist and Lead Investigator of the project. “Therefore, we will investigate the natural ability of these microbes to spread in the lab and in the field, and then determine how they can be used most effectively.”
As Dr David Tchouassi, icipe Scientist and project Co-Investigator further explains, the Centre has assembled an interdisciplinary team to understand a range of variables including: the capacity of Microsporidia MB to disperse via its different transmission routes; its effect on the behaviour of Anopheles mosquitoes; how to attract and infect adult mosquitoes; the dissemination protocols and the necessary environmental management factors.
Specifically, the Open Philanthropy grant will enable researchers to investigate the dynamics of naturally occurring microbes in the field, and to determine how the microbe spreads through large mosquito populations in screen house ‘semi-field’ facilities at the icipe Thomas Odhiambo Campus, Mbita Point, on the shores of Lake Victoria, Kenya.
“Investing in icipe’s malaria research is in line with the Open Philanthropy’s aim of making long-term, deliberate commitment to causes, especially where it is necessary to develop expertise and networks; as well as our belief in the interlinkage between economic development, technological innovation and the well-being of people,” adds Prof. Chris Somerville, Program Officer, Scientific Research, Open Philanthropy.
“This is a significant development that places impetus on new malaria curbing measures and at advancing the search for novel control strategies,” notes icipe Director General & CEO, Dr Segenet Kelemu. “The support from Open Philanthropy to icipe signifies the coming together of two like-minded institutions, to combine resources, skills and proficiencies towards this goal.”
The study will join a list of approaches to malaria control spearheaded by icipe, focusing on the behaviour and ecology of Anopheles mosquitoes, the transmission drivers of the disease. The Centre has over the past 50 years pioneered knowledge on the identity of mosquito species, their distribution, survival and biting rates; their behaviour, bloodmeal sources and malaria transmission processes; environmental and climatic factors affecting their development and has also led in the discovery of odours in mosquitoes, plants, people and natural sources, that could be used to block contact between the insects and people.
Notes for Editors
Herren, J.K., Mbaisi, L., Mararo, E., Makhulu, E.E., Mobegi, V.A., Butungi, H., Mancini, M.V., Oundo, J.W., Teal, E.T., Pinaud, S. and Lawniczak, M.K., 2020. A microsporidian impairs Plasmodium falciparum transmission in Anopheles arabiensis mosquitoes. Nature communications, 11(1), pp.1-10. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-16121-y
Open Philanthropy identifies outstanding giving opportunities, makes grants, follows the results, and publishes its findings. Its mission is to give as effectively as it can and share the findings openly so that anyone can build on them.
The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (www.icipe.org): Our mission is to help alleviate poverty, ensure food security, and improve the overall health status of peoples of the tropics, by developing and disseminating management tools and strategies for harmful and useful arthropods, while preserving the natural resource base through research and capacity building.