Harvard researchers develop new malaria prevention strategy

Mackenzie Bean - Print  | 

Researchers developed a method to reduce the spread of malaria by attacking the parasite responsible for the virus while it's still inside mosquitoes, according to research published Feb. 27 in Nature.

Four things to know:

1. Insecticide-treated bed nets that kill mosquitoes are typically used to prevent malaria. However, some health experts believe mosquitoes are building resistance to pyrethroids — the most common class of insecticides used — which is hindering efforts to eradicate malaria, according to NPR.

2. For the study, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston focused on how to kill the Plasmodium parasite, which causes malaria, instead of targeting mosquitoes.

3. Researchers exposed one group of mosquitoes to a petri dish coated with the antimalarial drug atovaquone, which prevents the Plasmodium parasite from reproducing in human bodies. Researchers then fed mosquitoes blood infected with the parasite. A week later, mosquitoes in the control group had many parasites in their systems. However, mosquitoes exposed to the antimalarial drug had no parasites.

"Mosquitoes land on this surface, bounce around on it for a few minutes and then simply did not become infected after a parasite-filled blood meal," co-study author Doug Paton, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard, told NPR. "We were hoping for an effect but were not expecting this kind of complete blocking of transmission."

4. Researchers said the results serve as a proof of concept that antimalaria-treated mosquito nets could be a valuable tool to prevent malaria infections in humans.

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10 top patient safety, infection control stories in February 

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