Husker entomologist Troy Anderson is leading a new research project that will explore ways to reduce the incidence of malaria.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the University of Nebraska-Lincoln a $1.43 million grant over three years to support the development of a more effective mosquito bait station.
Bait stations seem simple but are a major tool in the fight against mosquitoes. In many cases they are rectangular devices the size and shape of a piece of printer paper, with a thin membrane containing a combination of odorant and sugar to attract insects, as well as a deadly poison for the insect. Mosquito bait points can be placed on the outside wall of a house or on poles.
To develop a prototype next-generation bait station, Anderson and his colleagues will test variations in membrane composition, station design and attraction elements to determine the most effective combination. The reduced effectiveness of insecticides has “reinforced the need to develop technologies to reduce and eliminate the transmission of mosquito-borne pathogens,” said Anderson, an expert in insect toxicology. “This work focuses on the development and introduction of technology for administering insecticides to populations of insecticide-resistant mosquitoes with the goal of preventing community transmission of malaria.”
Researchers will follow up with field trials of prototype stations in Nebraska, Florida and Costa Rica.
More powerful mosquito mitigation technology is needed as recent years have reversed the positive trends in malaria prevention achieved at the start of this century.
Between 2000 and 2015, according to the World Health Organization, many countries saw a significant decline in the global incidence of this debilitating and often fatal disease. But in recent years, key global indicators such as total deaths, total cases and number of cases per 1,000 people have deteriorated, according to WHO‘Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030.
Malaria cases in 2020 totaled around 241 million, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, up from 227 million in 2019. Malaria deaths totaled around 627,000 adults and children in 2020, according to WHO The figures. This is a 12% increase over the previous year. the covid-19 crisis has disrupted mosquito control efforts in some countries, as have humanitarian emergencies.
Malaria strikes more than 25 million pregnant women each year, raising multiple health issues for both mother and child. One of the most harmful effects of malaria is that the disease greatly increases the chances of low birth weight babies. In 2020, WHO reports, malaria infections resulted in low birth weight conditions for 819,000 newborns.
As part of the effort to protect vulnerable populations, the majority of pregnant women and young children in sub-Saharan Africa now sleep every night under insecticide-treated mosquito nets. But a growing number of countries are reporting increased resistance of mosquitoes to conventional insecticides used against them.
To make further progress on this global public health need, new tools are needed to fight malaria, with increased investment in research and development a key part of this effort. WHO Chief Executive Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in his organization’s “Global Malaria Technical Strategy 2016-2030”.
Anderson’s project to develop an attractive and effective toxic sugar bait station aims to provide one of the new tools in this fight.
“We will consider this work a success if we can achieve a 70% or greater reduction in community mosquito populations and sustain that reduction in mosquito numbers for several months,” Anderson said.
The next-generation bait station developed by Anderson and his colleagues “has applications for reducing mosquitoes in other communities, such as in Nebraska,” Anderson said. “It would not only target harmful mosquitoes, but also those that carry West Nile virus.”
Throughout his academic career, Anderson said, “I have been interested in the discovery and development of chemical interventions that reduce arthropod pathogen-transmitting and community transmission of disease. This work has interested me a lot since I was a student.
With the right investments, strong political commitment and the right mix of strategies, the world can make significant progress in tackling the threat of malaria, WHO Managing Director Ghebreyesus wrote. Anderson’s cutting-edge research has the potential to provide a key asset in this global campaign.