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

December 16, 2018 by Ansley Kahn

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For the first time, scientists have mapped how the world’s deadliest malaria parasite, plasmodium falciparum, is able to enter and infect human blood cells—a key advancement in the quest for a vaccine against a parasite that kills more than 500,000 people each year. An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia, used the world’s most advanced cryo-electron microscope, the Titan Krios, to create a three-dimensional image of the parasite’s “key” to infection—a complex of three parasite proteins which work together to unlock and enter a human cell. This mapping provides scientists with a clear picture of how infection takes place, with lead researcher Professor Alan Cowman noting, "We now have the information required to design a vaccine that gives the immune system precise instructions about how to stop the malaria parasite."

According to a report released by the Treatment Action Group, global spending on tuberculosis (TB) research hit an all-time high in 2017—reaching US$772 million, up from $726 million in 2016. Despite this upward trend, according to the TB research community, total TB research funding for 2017 still falls short of the $2 billion per year needed to end the disease by 2030—a target that is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and part of the World Health Organization’s Global Plan to End TB. The report also notes that most of the $46 million increase in TB research funding from 2016 to 2017 was driven by funding from the public sector, with the US government as the largest investor with a contribution of $312 million. An earlier version of this report was released in September to inform the first-ever United Nations High Level Meeting on TB, where member states committed to closing the $1.3 billion annual gap in funding TB research.

Using multiple state-of-the-art microscopes, researchers at the University of Missouri were able to see how the chikungunya virus moves within a mosquito’s body—contributing to new understanding that could help one day lead to the prevention of mosquito-borne diseases. According to one researcher, it was previously common understanding that “…when a mosquito has picked up a virus, it first needs some time to build up inside the midgut, or stomach, before infecting other tissues in the mosquito." However, this study proved there is a narrow window of 32–48 hours between the time when a mosquito picks up a virus to when the virus leaves the mosquito’s stomach to infect someone it has bitten. One day, researchers aim to inhibit the genes involved with the release of the virus from within the mosquito’s stomach to prevent transmission of mosquito-borne diseases.

Categories: Malaria, Tuberculosis

About the author

Ansley KahnGHTC

Ansley Kahn is a senior program assistant at GHTC who supports GHTC's communications and member engagement activities.