A research team in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences received a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation earlier this month. The money will bolster its efforts to develop research and drugs to combat mosquito-borne diseases transmitted to humans.
The grant stems from the Gates Foundation’s scientific initiative called Grand Challenges Explorations. The $100 million project that Gates Foundation officials said was designed to “promote innovation in global health” and aid scientists in their efforts of exploring new and unique solutions to the health challenges in developing countries.
“This is transitional research, where your studies are very close to helping people – maybe preventing the transmission of a disease,” said Brian Foy, assistant professor of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology. “That gives us satisfaction, because it can become very esoteric working in a test tube all day; this keeps us grounded — it’s why we’re doing science.”
Foy, his associate Massamba Sylla, a visiting scientist who coordinates mosquito and malaria research in Senegal, and a research team of CSU graduate and undergraduate students plan to use the money to continue to test drugs designed to kill the disease-carrying, parasitic worms that live in host mosquitoes.
The grant falls under the MicroRx umbrella, the university’s Infectious Disease Supercluster, which was established in February to promote research on infectious diseases and speed the research transition into tangible products to be sold in the “global marketplace” according to university officials.
And while Foy said his team is a part of a long line of scientists to test drugs and other methods with the intent of reducing the occurrence of malaria in developing countries – regions of West Africa in particular.
He said that he is proud to be doing “basic science” in a lab which transfers into tangible, “transitional research” when it is developed into a method that directly helps people.
Kevin Kobylinski, a graduate student studying microbiology who has worked on the project, said conducting research in Senegal was an “eye-opening” experience because the team worked long hours in an environment without modern conveniences.
Kobylinski, who helped Foy and Sylla collect mosquito test populations from village huts, hopes to continue studying tropical diseases in Senegal after he graduates.
Foy said the “safe and well-targeted” endectocides they started testing on mosquito populations in Senegal in 2006, are a class of drugs made of bacteria that targets and kills animals without vertebrae — what he described as the creepy-crawly worms and other low order insects that carry the transferable diseases.
Foy described the spread of malaria as a “horizontal transition,” meaning the disease is transferred from people to animals and back to people. This occurs when female host mosquitoes pick up parasitic worms, incubate the worms in their salivary glands, and transfer the worms when she bites and “spits” them into the blood stream.
In alignment with 15 years of past research and endectocide testing, Foy’s team will be distributing Ivermectin — the most prominent form of endectocide on the market — to the people in Senegal over the next couple of years.
People who take Ivermectin, which is comparable to the heart-worm medication prescribed to pets by veterinarians, will maintain a specific level of the drug in their bloodstream that will circulate long enough to kill mosquitoes, drawing the drug into their guts after biting the affected individual.
Foy added that they hope this method will be effective in killing large populations of mosquitoes and directly halting the spread of malaria.
Foy explained the team’s research is unique because it uses the human body as a weapon to combat disease instead of pursuing alternative methods like spraying insecticides.
Foy said the “out-of-the-box” idea was unique enough to fulfill one of the grant requirements, which asked applicants to describe how their project “falls outside current scientific paradigms” to make significant advancements in global health.
“Some people might think that it’s a crazy idea,” Foy said. “How are you going to make your blood toxic to mosquitoes?”
Senior Reporter Madeline Novey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.