Peter F. Billingsley (right), senior director of Entomology and Quality Systems at Sanaria Inc., Rockville, Md., will speak on "Development of a Mosquito-Derived, Attenuated Whole Parasite Vaccine against Malaria" on Friday, Dec. 3.
His talk--from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in the UC Davis Genome Center Auditorium, 1005 Genome and Biological Sciences Facility, 451 Health Sciences Drive--is part of the UC Davis Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology Seminar Series, "Emerging Challenges in Microbiology and Immunology." It's also affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology fall seminar series.
Host is Shirley Luckhart, associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology, who studies the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. Luckhart's many roles include serving as a graduate student advisor in the Department of Entomology.
Sanaria? It's a self-described "biotechnology company dedicated to the production of a vaccine protective against malaria caused by the pathogen Plasmodium falciparum."
Billingsley has more than 20 years experience in medical entomology and malaria transmission research. He directed research teams at Imperial College, London, and the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, examining diverse aspects of insect biology related to disease transmission, especially midgut and salivary gland biology, and more recently the molecular physiology of aging in mosquitoes.
Billinglsey, who earned his doctorate at Queen’s University in Canada, is a former head (chair) of zoology in the School of Biological Sciences, Aberdeen University.
Since 2006, he has devoted his broad expertise to the unique challenges of developing and deploying a live attenuated Plasmodium falciparum sporozoite vaccine at Sanaria Inc.
Billingsley's talk is generating a lot of interest, as well it should.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), malaria kills more than a million people a year: "In 2008, an estimated 190 - 311 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide and 708,000 - 1,003,000 people died, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa."
Research news coming out of the University of California, Davis and the University of Arizona labs recently drew international attention; the scientists have genetically engineered mosquitoes that are resistant to malaria parasites.
Now one of the co-authors has received a coveted research fellowship from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
who studies with noted malaria researcher and major professor Shirley Luckhart (left), has received a NIH research fellowship aimed to promote diversity in health-related research.
Luckhart is an associate professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, UC Davis School of Medicine, and a graduate student advisor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Drexler, who joined the Luckhart lab in January 2008, focuses her research on the roles of the human blood-derived insulin-like growth factor-1 and the role of insulin signaling in the regulation of malaria parasite transmission by Anopheles mosquitoes.The UC Davis student is a co-first author of a paper on malaria parasites published July 15, 2010 in the journal Public Library of Science Pathogens (PLOS). Titled “Activation of Akt Signaling Reduces the Prevalence and Intensity of Malaria Parasite Infection and Lifespan in Anopheles stephensi Mosquitoes,” the work is a collaborative effort between UC Davis and the University of Arizona.
Co-authors include Luckhart and UC Davis researcher Ed Lewis, who has a joint appointment with the Department of Nematology and the Department of Entomology.
The paper, with more than 4200 article views in July alone, has drawn extensive news coverage. BBC science reporter Victoria Gill, in a July 16th article headlined “Malaria-Proof Mosquito Engineered,” wrote that the scientists “have succeeded in genetically engineering a malaria-resistant mosquito.”
In a July 17th piece, “Malaria-Proof Mosquito Created,” ABC News science writer Eric Bland wrote that scientists have created a malaria-proof mosquito by engineering "a genetic ‘on switch' that permanently activates a malaria-destroying response.”
“If these mosquitoes,” Bland wrote, “are successfully introduced into the wild, they could prevent millions of people from becoming infected with life-threatening Plasmodium--the parasite that causes malaria.”
Drexler, who grew up in Washington, D.C., received her bachelor’s degree in integrative biology, with an emphasis on animal biology, from UC Berkeley in 1999. She earned her master’s degree in physiology and behavior from San Francisco State University in 2006.
The competitive NIH fellowships are available to provide funds to qualified students for stipends, research supplies, and research-related travel under an existing parent research grant.
The applications are evaluated on multiple criteria, including career goals, prior research training, research potential and relevant experience, and evidence of educational achievement.
This research is so important: targeting a killer that causes more than a million human deaths a year worldwide.
It's a killer, pure and simple.
But the issue is as complex as it comes.
The malaria mosquito, from the genus Anopheles, infects some 350 to 500 million people a year, killing more than a million. Most are young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Female mosquitoes “bite” because they require a blood meal to develop their eggs. They detect their prey via olfactory receptor neurons found on their antennae, the insect equivalent to the human “nose.”
When Anopheline mosquitoes are infected with a parasite that causes malaria, the insect-host transmission occurs. The result: a deadly killer.
Identifying exactly how malaria mosquitoes detect their human prey is crucial to developing strategies for mosquito control, says chemical ecologist Walter Leal, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
Leal, recently asked to write a "News-and-Views" piece on a Yale-Vanderbilt study for the international science journal, Nature, did so eloquently in its March 4th edition. He praised the scientific report as a “milestone discovery in our understanding of the malaria mosquito’s sense of smell.”In the article, headlined "The Treacherous Scent of a Human," Leal zeroes in the widespread threat of malaria, a disease that threatens half of the world’s population. It's "an accessory to the deaths of about one million humans every year,” Leal wrote. “Globally, the number of people who get malaria each year is greater than the population of the United States.”
That's putting a number on the numbers.
The Yale-Vanderbilt team, headed by John Carlson of the Yale Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, examined 79 of the malaria mosquito’s odorant receptors, finding that some are well-tuned to detect specific human odors and others aren’t. Certain odorants activate some receptors but inhibit others, according to their comprehensive study published March 4 in Nature.
Indeed. The Leal lab back in 2008 published groundbreaking research that revealed the secret mode of the insect repellent, DEET. The scent doesn't jam the insect senses and it doesn't mask the smell of the host, as scientists previously thought. Mosquitoes avoid it because it smells bad to them.
Leal advocates more molecular studies in the war against malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. But that research can't stand alone. As he succinctly points out: “The development of effective malaria control will require a multidisciplinary approach that includes, but is not limited to, improvements to social infrastructure in countries affected by disease, vaccination programs and vector management.”New mosquito attractants or repellents, he says, could be developed through reverse chemical ecology, determining which odorant attracts and which repels.
Mosquitoes don't like the scent of DEET. What else do they NOT like?
The study, as Leal correctly observes, "offers a fresh strategy for controlling the unwitting accessories to one of the world’s most prolific killers.”
Anopheles gambiae, the mosquito that transmits malaria, has a new foe.
And his first name is Win.
Win Surachetpong, a UC Davis doctoral candidate in immunology with a designed emphasis in vector-borne disease, has just received the American Committee of Medical Entomology student travel award to present his malaria research at the 58th annual American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) conference Nov. 18-22 in Washington, D.C.
That's quite an honor, indeed.
Surachetpong studies with noted malaria researcher Shirley Luckhart, an associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology at UC Davis.
“Win’s work has demonstrated for the first time that signaling pathways that are well known for immune responsiveness in humans to Plasmodium infection are also important for the mosquito response to parasite infection,” said Luckhart, a faculty member of the Graduate Program in Entomology, and the Graduate Groups of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Microbiology; and Immunology.
“Win will be presenting exciting unpublished work that moves forward from his recent publication in PLoS Pathogens,” she said.
Also by invitation, Surachetpong will discuss his research at the adjoining meeting of the American Committee of Molecular, Cellular and Immunoparasitology, a unit of ASTMH that fosters the transfer of fundamental discoveries in basic research to applications that improve human health.
Malaria, caused by the parasite Plasmodium and transmitted by infected anophelene mosquitoes, strikes some 350 to 500 million people a year, killing more than a million. (Above: The photo of Anopheles gambiae is by UC Davis medical entomologist Anthony "Anton" Cornel, based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier.)Luckhart (at left) said that Win is “working simultaneously on three different, inter-related, redox-regulated signal transduction pathways that will move our current state of knowledge forward significantly when he is through.”
“There are no commercially available tools (such as antibodies, reagents for knockout) that have been designed to study these signaling pathways in invertebrate cells, much less mosquito cells,” she said.
Surachetpong is adapting available tools for mammalian cell studies to his work and developing the remaining tools and reagents on his own. “His data comprised nearly all of the preliminary data for a new NIH grant that will allow us to move forward into new and exciting areas in anti-malarial innate immunity,” Luckhart said.
Earlier this year, Surachetpong won the 2009 William C. Reeves New Investigator Award, a statewide award which acknowledges the best scientific paper submitted and presented at the annual Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California conference.
A native of Thailand, Surachetpong received his doctor of veterinary science degree at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok in 2000, ranking first in his class, and his master of science degree in pathobiology in 2005 from the University of Arizona, where he received the “Above and Beyond Award” from the Department of Veterinary Science and Microbiology.
After completing his doctorate at UC Davis, Surachetpong will join the faculty at Kasetsart University, Bangkok, to continue his research on tropical and emerging infectious diseases.
As a medical entomologist and immunologist, his goal is to utilize his expertise in vector-borne diseases and innate immunity to improve malaria transmission control in Thailand and other endemic countries.
What's medical entomolology?
Anyone who's an entomologist or who works in entomology is asked that question periodically. Medical, they know. Entomology? Often not. But medical entomology?
Well, it's the study of relationships among arthorpods, microbial pathogens and human health, according to medical entomologist Thomas Scott, professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Scott teaches courses on medical entomology. His next one: the 2009 winter quarter, Jan. 5 through March 16.
Worldwide, Scott says, arthropod-borne diseases have devastating effects on human health; they are a leading cause of human morbidity and mortality.
In his course, he explains the basic biology of medically important arthropods and the pathogens they transmit. The diseases include malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile virus, Lyme disease and River Blindness.
Scott, a noted mosquito-borne disease expert and newly elected fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science (for "distinguished contributions to the biology and ecology of mosquitoes and his leadership in developing strategic concepts for preventing dengue fever and other mosquito-borne diseases”) does research from his mosquito research laboratory at UC Davis and at field stations in Peru, Thailand and Mexico.
In January, Scott hosted the 42nd annual U.S.-Japan Parasitic Disease Conference on the UC Davis campus. Some 100 scientists from throughout the world participated in the three-day conference "to develop a cross-cutting perspective on what the priorities should be for the future research on arthropod vectors of disease," he explained.
With new and emerging diseases, increasing national and international travel, settlement in endemic areas, and the proliferation of commerce, we can expect disease from vector-borne pathogens to increase, Scott says.
It's obvious what we need less of (diseases) and what we need more of (medical entomologists).