BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

October 07, 2019

Research Roundup: Bacteria-infected mosquitoes to fight dengue, BARDA to fund Marburg and Ebola vaccines, and saliva test to diagnose malaria

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Carib Nelson

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Since 2015, scientists from the Fiocruz Institute in Brazil have been infecting mosquitoes with Wolbachia bacteria in a lab and then releasing them into the wild in trial tests in the hopes of slowing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue. Wolbachia bacteria—common among insects except the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits dengue, Zika, and chikungunya—works by boosting a mosquito's immune system, making it less likely to contract disease. However, if a mosquito does contract dengue, Wolbachia makes it harder for the virus to grow inside the insect and be transmitted to humans. The hope is that the lab-infected mosquitoes will reproduce with wild mosquitoes, spreading the bacteria through the population. Scientists report “significant reductions” in cases of dengue and chikungunya in neighborhoods near where mosquitoes were released. Tests also show more than 90 percent of mosquitoes in areas where the first infected insects were released more than three years ago have the bacteria. Scientists see this technique as one in a suite of tools to control mosquito populations and halt the spread of disease.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) awarded the Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) an initial US$20.5 million, with options for an additional $107.5 million, to support development of vaccines against Marburg virus and Sudan Ebola virus. With the initial award, Sabin will conduct development and non-clinical activities with the intent of continuing clinical research through phase 2 trials, which may be supported by the additional funding. The Sudan Ebola vaccine candidate is the first of this virus strain to receive BARDA support and the Marburg vaccine candidate is the second to receive BARDA support. BARDA is also supporting the development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics against the Ebola virus strain causing the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For the first time, researchers have developed a rapid diagnostic test that uses a biomarker in saliva to detect the mosquito-borne parasite that causes malaria. The test, which will be marketed as SALVA!, is less invasive than traditional malaria diagnostics, which require a blood sample, and can even detect the disease before people carrying the parasite show symptoms or fall ill. Easy-to-administer at the community level, the test also delivers results in five to twenty minutes without samples being sent to a lab. Global Health Innovative Technology Fund has awarded the test’s developers more than £1 million for field trials and continued development. The World Health Organization has called for more new tools to detect malaria, a disease for which there are more than 200 million cases worldwide each year.

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