Malaria research

The malaria research themes in Seppo Meri’s group is run by docent Ayman Khattab and directed towards innovative tools and approaches for malaria control and prevention. The group currently uses three different but synergistic approaches that aim at reducing malaria incidence in malaria-endemic areas.

The first approach utilizes malaria parasite antigens, which are used by the parasite to evade the host complement system, as potential vaccines against malaria.

The second approach focuses on the malaria-transmitting mosquitoes and their ability to resist complement-damaging properties against foreign cells when they ingest human blood. We have identified a mechanism by which mosquitoes evade the destructive properties of human complement. Vaccinating individuals with mosquito antigens involved in this mechanism will render human blood toxic to the mosquitoes, reduce their lifespan and block malaria transmission.

The third approach focuses on the direct blocking the man-mosquito contact. The best way to prevent vector borne diseases such as Malaria is through minimizing man-mosquito contact. However, the extensive use of malaria control measures, based on insecticides and therapeutic drugs, could lead to the emergence of vector resistance to insecticides and drug resistant parasites. To overcome this problem, we need additional supportive malaria control measures to ease the pressure on insecticide and drug use. Our lab has been working on a novel strategy, which focuses on blocking mosquito-human contact to reduce malaria transmission. It relies on the use of a novel mosquito screen/net (3D screen) developed in our lab in collaboration with the Tampere University of Technology. We used the 3D screen to create a window double screen trap setup (3D-WDST) not only to prevent mosquitoes from entering houses but also to catch them. Window double screen trap is proposed to serve as a new window’s installation standard in Africa. Africans are familiar with window screens as a means to prevent mosquitoes from entering houses. In our set-up, we have added another screen, the 3D screen, in front of the existing one to convert it into a trap. Mosquitoes can penetrate the 3D screens from one side (towards the space between the two window screens creating the trap) but not from the other (the way back to the outside of the trap).

To date we have completed Phase I studies in Helsinki with our lab reared mosquitoes (Khattab et al 2017) and Phase II studies in three semi-field trials in Tanzania between 04/2016–12/2017 where 3D-WDST were found quite effective in capturing (up to 80%) mosquitoes compared to the ones collected in control huts. The next step of the evaluation is to measure the efficacy of window double screen traps in reducing malaria transmission in a Phase III community trial under ‘real-world’ conditions to warrant WHO support for a large-scale multicenter implementation of the solution. The phase III community trial is currently in progress in the Muheza district in northern-eastern Tanzania with the support of Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.

Visual updates from the phase III community filed trial


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