BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

September 03, 2019

Research Roundup: Thyme oil and corn starch used as larvicide, Gates Foundation grants for a universal flu vaccine, and Gavi calls on donors

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Mike Wang

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Researchers have developed a low-cost, biodegradable larvicide that can kill the larvae of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika, dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya. Using a technique known as microencapsulation, researchers developed capsules, or shells, made of corn starch that slowly release thyme essential oil when in water—where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes lay their eggs—but remain intact in a dry environment. Thyme oil contains a natural compound that kills the larvae. In the study, the shells only released 20 percent of the thyme oil on first contact with water, meaning the microcapsules could remain functional for approximately five rain cycles. Researchers suggested that the public sector could produce and distribute these low-cost microcapsules so that people can pour them where rainwater accumulates. Stemming mosquito development at the larvae stage, when insects are most vulnerable and not yet a potential vector for diseases, is key to stemming mosquito and disease proliferation.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the philanthropy Flu Lab announced Thursday that US$12 million will be awarded to as many as eight scientific teams to conduct foundational research in pursuit of a universal flu vaccine. The maximum grant will be two million dollars and will stretch over two years. The announcement of six of the grants was made last week in Singapore at Options for the Control of Influenza, the flu world’s largest scientific conference. This research will investigate how to design a flu vaccine that could protect against the multitude of influenza strains, which would not need to be updated frequently as flu viruses mutate.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), called on donors for $7.4 billion to help immunize 300 million children against life-threatening diseases between 2021 and 2025—saving up to eight million lives worldwide. This announcement was made in Yokohama, Japan alongside a three-day international conference on African development. Gavi is backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, World Health Organization, donor governments, and others to fund immunization programs in low-income nations. Gavi CEO Seth Berkley reinforced the urgency around this announcement, noting that 1.5 million people die of vaccine-preventable diseases every year.

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