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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.

April 8, 2019 by Ansley Kahn

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In pursuit of a malaria vaccine, the biotech firm, Sanaria, has partnered with roboticists at Johns Hopkins University to develop a guillotine to decapitate and dissect out the salivary glands of mosquitoes, which hold the malaria-causing parasite. This guillotine, which can decapitate 30 mosquitoes at a time with the guidance of a “mosquito surgeon,” will help Sanaria effectively mass-produce its malaria vaccine candidate, PfSPZ, which requires one whole malaria parasite per vaccine dose. Eventually automating this process, even partially, would likely boost the mosquito dissection rate above the current average of 300 mosquitoes per hour achieved by highly trained technicians. The PfSPZ vaccine, which is currently in phase 2 clinical trials, is thought to work by inducing killer T cells to attack the parasites in the human body as they’re developing in the liver.

Scientists at Oxford University have harvested antibodies from volunteers vaccinated in research trials of an Ebola vaccine to develop a treatment for the viral infection. Traditionally, antibodies intended for treatment are collected from the blood of people who have survived infection. This technique instead uses antibodies collected from those who have been exposed to the Ebola vaccine but not the Ebola virus itself—suggesting that protective therapies can be developed from people who are disease-free. To create the experimental treatment, scientists made a cocktail of four antibodies from trial volunteers who had been given an experimental Ebola vaccine and whose immune system responded to the shot by making antibodies. This cocktail successfully cured six guinea pigs of the virus when administered three days after infection. The research team believes this approach could be used for other emerging diseases caused by viruses.

Brazilian researchers say they have developed a simpler, cheaper, and faster method to diagnose the Zika virus that doesn’t require laboratory equipment or trained staff. The method uses a technology called loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-Lamp), which amplifies the viral genome of the biological sample to detect the virus. While the current method of detecting Zika virus, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), is considered the gold standard for virus detection, it requires expensive equipment, specialist staff, and laboratories with good infrastructure. On the other hand, RT-Lamp has the ability to detect a very low quantity of the virus and has an individual cost of around US$0.25 compared to $10 for the PCR test. The RT-Lamp technology has long been used for other diseases, such as Ebola, but not for Zika. The authors of the study have requested a patent of this technique and hope to transform the technology into a commercial kit to be used for diagnosing patients.

About the author

Ansley KahnGHTC

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