November 12, 2017

Research Roundup: Discerning between Zika and dengue, hope for a GBS vaccine, and killer mosquitoes as mosquito control

Program Assistant
PATH/Georgina Goodwin

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

A quick and inexpensive test may make it easier to diagnose and distinguish betweenZika and dengue. Both viruses produce the same NS1 protein, making it is impossible for current NS1 protein-based diagnostic tests to discern between the two. To overcome this problem, scientists developed a set of antibodies produced from immune cells that can distinguish between an NS1 protein produced by the Zika virus and an NS1 protein produced by the dengue virus. In a study, the diagnostic test was able to discern between the two viruses, even when there was a lowNS1 protein count in the body. While further studies are required, this tool could become an essential diagnostic tool in areas of the world where both Zika and dengue are endemic.

A series of papers exploring the impact of group B streptococcus (GBS) was published in Clinical Infectious Diseases. GBS is an infection a mother can pass to her fetus that can cause septicemia, meningitis, and even death. The papers argue that there are 410,000 cases of GBS every year with 147,000 associated stillbirths and infant deaths. There is also a major disparity of GBS cases between developed and developing countries: Many at-risk women in developed countries receive prophylactic antibiotics during labor, but those resources are often not available to women in developing countries. Scientists believe the solution to this problem is a GBS-specific vaccine, which could save over 100,000 infant lives.This vaccine may be critically important as scientists believe “immunizing expecting mothers is a potentially groundbreaking approach that could dramatically reduce the number of maternal and child deaths.”There is currently no GBS vaccine available, but there are candidates in development.

The US Environmental Protection Agency approved the release of lab-reared “killer mosquitoes” to help reduce the population of disease-carrying mosquitoes in certain American states. A biotechnology start-up based in Kentucky—MosquitoMate—will rear these mosquitoes with a lethal bacterium that impedes reproduction and release the infected males into the wild. When the infected males mate with wild females, the offspring will not be viable due to malformed chromosomes. Over time, disease-carrying mosquito populations will dwindle. Other countries, including Brazil, have tried this method and found it successful, suggesting this could be a solution for countries severely affected by mosquito-borne illnesses. This method is also a “non-chemical way of dealing with mosquitoes,” so offers an alternative to pesticide-based vector control.