DZIF malaria researcher gains funding

Dr. Victoria Ingham from Heidelberg University Hospital and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating the potential dual effect of a new insecticide for mosquito nets. The active agent chlorfenapyr could help control vector mosquitoes and malaria parasites at the same time and prevent resistance. The project is now supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Today, more than 240 million people worldwide still fall ill with malaria, and 600,000 lose their lives to the disease every year. The majority of these deaths are of children under the age of 5. This makes malaria one of the most dangerous and deadly infectious diseases in the world today.

Mosquito nets treated with insecticides are currently the most important method of combating malaria. Experts estimate that the decrease in malaria infections over the last 20 years is largely due to these bed nets. However, mosquitoes are becoming increasingly resistant to the insecticides used in the nets. Dr. Victoria Ingham, group leader at Heidelberg University Hospital (UKHD), and her team are researching the effect of the new insecticide called chlorfenapyr for a possible dual control of both the vector mosquitoes and the malaria parasite itself. The project will be funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the next three and a half years.

The development of resistance to insecticides from the group of insecticides called pyrethroids, which are used worldwide in all commercially available mosquito nets, is particularly critical. To make it more difficult for resistance to develop, a combination of two different insecticides is therefore being successfully used in next-generation nets. One new combination ingredient is chlorfenapyr, which Ingham's research group is now taking a closer look at. "In addition to its insecticidal effect, this substance could have a welcome side effect in that it also acts directly on the plasmodia – the malaria pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes," says Dr. Victoria Ingham, who heads a research group of the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) in the Department of Parasitology at the Center for Infectious Diseases at the UKHD.

Chlorfenapyr is a so-called pro-insecticide, as it is only converted into its active form—tralopyril—in the mosquito's body. Unlike most approved insecticides, which damage the mosquito's nervous system, chlorfenapyr in its active form attacks the cells' power stations, the mitochondria, and thus the organism's energy supply. Since malaria pathogens also have and rely on these cellular power stations, tralopyril could knock out both mosquito and parasite at the same time, Dr. Ingham suspects.

She plans to look more closely at two key aspects of chlorfenapyr's action: First, the specific effects on the malaria parasite, and second, the interaction with pyrethroids in terms of pyrethroid resistance. Funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help Dr. Ingham find answers in her research project. "Mosquito nets treated with chlorfenapyr are a new tool that can significantly improve the global fight against malaria. If we succeed in strengthening our understanding of the mechanisms underlying their performance and confirm their hypothesised dual effect, we can help inform future developments in vector control," says the scientist.

The project's industrial cooperation partner is BASF, which provides mosquito nets containing the combination chlorfenapyr and a pyrethroid insecticide.

Source: Press release of Heidelberg University Hospital

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