Two new papers by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Malaria Research Institute report successes for highly promising strategies against malaria, a disease that still kills more than 400,000 people each year, mostly children age five and under in sub-Saharan Africa.
The two studies discovered different ways by which resistance to the malaria parasite can spread into a mosquito population, potentially opening the way for the development of self-propagating malaria control strategies. The advantage of this feature is the lesser need to continuously apply malaria control measures such as insecticides and bed nets.
The two papers appear in the September 29 issue of Science.
One team of researchers discovered a strain of bacteria that can spread rapidly and persist long-term among malaria-carrying mosquitoes. A genetically modified version of the bacterial strain strongly suppresses development of the malaria parasite, making the mosquitoes much less likely to transmit these parasites to humans.
A second research team discovered that a genetic modification that boosted the immune system of malaria-carrying mosquitoes not only suppresses malaria parasites in the insects but also can spread quickly in a test population, by changing the mosquitoes’ mating preferences.
These new findings could lead to developing bacteria and mosquitoes that would be released into mosquito populations in the wild, and would propagate on their own to reduce malaria transmission to humans in endemic areas. These strategies are designed to be complementary and would be used in conjunction with things like bed nets and insecticides to diminish the transmission of disease.