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Member Research and Reports

Harvard: Applying Antimalarial Drugs to Bed Nets Could Lead to Drop in Malaria Transmission

Mosquitoes that landed on surfaces coated with the antimalarial compound atovaquone were completely blocked from developing Plasmodium falciparum (P. falciparum), the parasite that causes malaria, according to new research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study showed that atovaquone — an active ingredient in medication that’s commonly used in humans to prevent and treat malaria — can be absorbed through mosquitoes’ tarsi (legs) and prevents the insects from developing and spreading the parasite. The findings indicate that treating bed nets with atovaquone or similar compounds would be an effective way to reduce the burden of malaria while significantly mitigating the growing problem of insecticide resistance.

“Mosquitoes are amazingly resilient organisms that have developed resistance against every insecticide that has been used to kill them. By eliminating malaria parasites within the mosquito rather than killing the mosquito itself, we can circumvent this resistance and effectively prevent malaria transmission,” said Dr. Flaminia Catteruccia, professor of immunology and infectious diseases. “Ultimately, the use of antimalarials on mosquito nets could help eliminate this devastating disease. It’s a simple but innovative idea that’s safe for people who use mosquito nets and friendly to the environment.”

The study was published in Nature on February 27.

For this study, the researchers reasoned that they could introduce antimalarial compounds to Anopheles mosquitoes in a way that’s similar to a mosquito making contact with insecticides on a bed net. Rather than kill the mosquitoes, the aim was to give them a prophylactic treatment so that they could not develop and transmit the malaria-causing parasite.

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