November 25, 2019

Research Roundup: Lab on wheels could improve outbreak response, new chemical formulation for bednets shows promise, and experimental HIV vaccine elicits broadly neutralizing antibodies

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
PATH/Dan Chang

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US-based company Integrum Scientific has developed a “lab on wheels” that developers say could greatly improve the response to disease outbreaks and epidemics. The vehicle is equipped with everything onboard needed to rapidly diagnose patients or carry out research studies and can be transported to outbreak areas by plane and driven to even the most remote locations. The mobile lab can be outfitted as a biosafety level 2 or 3 lab, comes with almost ten meters of lab bench space, has an -80 degree Celsius freezer, satellite communication, and two generators that can run on “dirty” diesel fuel commonly found in African countries. It is also built for traversing unpaved, muddy roads and is equipped with a reinforced door and security system. The first vehicle may soon be tested in Uganda. A prototype was parked outside the annual conference of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene this past week.

A major trial in Uganda that used a new chemical entity in bednets has shown promising results, offering hope for an alternative solution as mosquitoes have grown increasingly resistant to pyrethroid, a chemical commonly used in long-lasting insecticide treated bednets. Researchers found that though pyrethroid-treated bednets continued to be effective, households given bednets with a combination of pyrethroid and the chemical piperonyl butoxide experienced 27 percent fewer cases of malaria among children ages two to ten. These households also had 80 percent fewer malaria-carrying mosquitoes. This combination bednet formula received a conditional recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017, and its Vector Control Advisory Group is expected to make another assessment in 2020 to determine whether to provide a full recommendation for the intervention. WHO reports have shown stagnation in global progress against malaria in recent years, which coincides with increasing concerns about the impact of pyrethroid resistance on anti-malaria efforts.

An experimental HIV vaccine developed by Scripps Research and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative elicited antibodies that can neutralize a wide variety of HIV strains in early animal studies. The test, in rabbits, showed that these “broadly neutralizing” antibodies targeted at least two critical sites on the virus. These results offer a proof of principle, as researchers widely assume a vaccine must elicit these antibodies to multiple sites on HIV to provide protection against a constantly evolving virus. The research team continue to test and improve their vaccine strategy in small animal models and hope to eventually test the vaccine in monkeys and then humans. According to UNAIDS, approximately 35 million people worldwide have died from AIDS and about 38 million others are now living with HIV infection.