LSU AgCenter entomologists receive Gates grant to study malaria-transmitting mosquitoes

Tobie Blanchard, Bogren, Richard C.

Swale Habitat

LSU AgCenter entomologist Daniel Swale stands in front of a mini-habitat set up in Mbita, Kenya. Swale received a Grand Challenges grant to study malaria-transmitting mosquitoes in Kenya. (Photo provided by Daniel Swale)

Swale Mosquitoes

Daniel Swale collects wild Anopheles gambiae larval mosquitoes from local irrigation ponds in Mbita, Kenya, for use in different physiological experiments. Anopheles gambiae is the main vector of malaria in Kenya. (Photo provided by Daniel Swale)

(02/29/16) BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU AgCenter entomologists Daniel Swale and Kristen Healy received a Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct research on control methods of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes in Kenya.

Swale, an insect physiologist, recently returned from Mbita, Kenya, where he set up his research project and assembled a team of researchers to help him facilitate the project in East Africa.

The Grand Challenges identified new approaches of addressing malaria transmission as one of its seven research topics to fund for 2015. Swale is looking at novel ways to control the mosquito Anopheles gambiae, which is the main vector of the disease.

“Currently, malaria control revolves around long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets,” Swale said. “These nets are highly effective when used correctly, but mosquitoes are developing both behavioral and insecticide resistance to this form of control.”

To mitigate this resistance, Swale is working with two classes of insecticides that focus on two life-stages of the mosquito as well as the adult mosquito.

The first insecticide is an experimental chemical that targets a new site in adult mosquitoes. Swale and collaborators at Vanderbilt University developed this chemical.

The second insecticide is a chemical class that has been used extensively in agriculture but has limited uses in mosquito control and is known as an insect growth regulator.

“As the name implies, this chemical prevents the mosquito larvae from growing into an adult, which is the life stage that transmits malaria,” Swale said. “Essentially, if we can’t kill the adult, then we will use it as a mechanism to disperse the insecticide that will kill the offspring in the egg-laying habitat.”

Swale is working with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), which performs a wide range of experimental research but focuses on reducing illnesses and death from mosquito-vectored diseases.

Swale said the director of the local hospital in Mbita is highly involved in various malaria research projects and noted that about 50-70 percent of the cases they see are the potentially deadly form of malaria, highlighting the need for Swale’s research.

While in Kenya, Swale and his team set up mini-habitats – huts enclosed in a screenhouse – that mimic dwellings used in the region.

“This mini-habitat will allow us to release mosquitoes into the screenhouse and study the behavior, influence the experimental control methods and impact on malaria mosquitoes within a habitat that most closely resembles those of East Africa, yet in a controlled manner to prevent any environmental contamination,” he said.

Healy and a group of students and scientists are performing experiments in Louisiana that will test the efficacy of various insect growth regulators to determine the potential to use in Swale’s research in Kenya.

Swale and Healy also are working with the East Baton Rouge Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control to conduct research project in Baton Rouge with a mosquito that is common in Louisiana, Anopheles quadrimaculatus.

“The goal of this study in Louisiana is twofold. It will serve as another mechanism to test the experimental design that is currently being used in Kenya. It also will begin the process of characterizing a novel mechanism to control Louisiana mosquitoes, which can significantly reduce the annoyance of the local mosquitoes,” Swale said.

Swale will wrap up his work in Kenya and Louisiana in December. With successful results from this current grant, he will apply for a $1 million Grand Challenges grant to further his research.

“We would move into the next stage of setting up a larger-scale research project in villages on islands in Lake Victoria. If successful, it will be one of the final stages prior to moving this project into a malaria control program that is used in Sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

Grand Challenges is a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems. Each initiative is an experiment in the use of challenges to focus innovation on making an impact.

3/9/2016 4:10:37 PM
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