November 6, 2017

Research Roundup: Forest loss and Ebola, antibody-caused dengue complications, and a mosquito-monitoring platform

Taylor Capizola
Program Assistant
Umit Kartoglu

In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

A new study found a significant link between forest loss and the timing of Ebola outbreaks. Previous research had already established an association between deforestation patterns and outbreaks hotspots, but this study is the first to connect it to a timeline. Researchers tracked both deforestation events and nearby Ebola outbreaks and found a two-year gap between the event and the outbreak, suggesting there is a delayed, but causal link between deforestation and the emergence of the virus. This discovery may allow scientists to set up early warning systems and aid in the overall prediction of future outbreaks.

New evidence has strengthened theories surrounding the role of antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE)—or an antibody-facilitated attack that makes infection more deadly—in severe dengue complications. This evidence suggests individuals infected on more than one occasion with different serotypes—or variants—of dengue may develop a life-threatening infection called dengue hemorrhagic fever/dengue shock syndrome (DHF/DSS), due to antibodies produced from the first infection binding with the virus during the second infection to allow it to more easily enter cells and reproduce. A study of more than 600 children found those with multiple dengue infections of different serotypes had a 7.64 times higher risk of developing DHF/DSS. This evidence sparked a debate about ADE, since genetics, T-cells, and innate immunity all play critical roles in disease complication.

Scientists at Stanford University have created a crowd-sourced, cell-phone-based mosquito-monitoring platform to build a network of mosquito surveillance and a global map of mosquito distribution. The platform—Abuzz—will allow citizen scientists—or participants—to use their cell phones to record and submit the buzzing sound of a mosquito. The system then identifies the species using the particular sound of the buzz and plots on a map where and when the mosquito was sighted. The system is compatible with most cell phones—not just smartphones—which opens up the platform to many more people who may not have access to costly technology. If enough contributions are submitted from around the world, Abuzz could create a map of the locations of dangerous species, which the scientists hope could be used to improve mosquito control efforts.