BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

September 09, 2019

Research Roundup: 'Highly effective' way to kill malaria parasite, a mobile program to get TB patients to take their pills, and radiating mosquitoes to stop dengue fever outbreak

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Patrick McKern

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Human clinical trials are being planned to evaluate whether Ivermectin, a drug used to treat parasitic diseases like river blindness and elephantiasis, could become a new drug to combat malaria. Earlier this year, clinical trials conducted in Burkina Faso using Ivermectin for conditions unrelated to malaria found that it reduced malaria transmission by making the blood of people who were repeatedly vaccinated lethal to mosquitoes. Studies have also found that Ivermectin can kill plasmodium falciparum, the malaria parasite carried by mosquitoes, when administered to humans. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and other global health partners, will perform the upcoming trials. Kemri and its partners say they hope this breakthrough could lead to the development of a new class of antimalarials in less than two years.

Researchers have devised and tested a new mobile program which encourages tuberculosis (TB) patients to adhere to their treatment regimen. Compliance is a challenge with TB because treatment typically lasts for at least six months and involves multiple daily pills that can cause side effects such as nausea, fever, rashes, and stomach pain. The program, Keheala, texts patients to remind them to take their pills daily and asks them to actively verify that they have done so. Patients are ranked and told where they stand in an “adherence contest” against other patients. If patients do not verify that they have taken their pills, they receive more texts, calls, and finally a clinic is alerted. In the trial conducted, only four percent of patients in the Keheala program had bad outcomes, while 13 percent of those in the control group did. Based on these results, the US Agency for International Development will fund an expansion of this trial. Adherence to medications is crucial in treating TB, as those who miss too many pills often develop drug-resistant strains.

As a result of the dengue outbreak sweeping across Bangladesh, the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency have agreed to trial an innovative technique, known as the sterile insect technique (SIT), which uses radiation to sterilize male mosquitoes. Once sterilized, the male mosquitoes are released into the wild to mate with female mosquitoes, who then do no reproduce—reducing the mosquito population over time. SIT has been used successfully in parts of Africa to eradicate the tsetse fly which transmits sleeping sickness. Experts believe irradiating insects is better than other ways of controlling the mosquito population as it does not involve introducing non-native species or risk mosquitoes developing resistance to insecticides. The first group of sterilized mosquitoes will be released into the wild in Bangladesh in 2021-22.

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