Gates Foundation Project to Eliminate Malaria Focuses on Insecticides

Gates Foundation Project to Eliminate Malaria Focuses on Insecticides

A Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiative is experimenting with a pair of low-tech approaches to malaria eradication that could be on the verge of paying off, the Seattle Times reports.

In addition to much flashier approaches such as gene drive technology, laser fences, and the development of a malaria vaccine, the foundation has been supporting not one but two environmentally friendly methods to malaria eradication that work by luring mosquitoes into  contact with insecticides. The first capitalizes on mosquitoes' tendency to slip into human habitations through the gap between the walls and the roof, a structural feature of many dwellings in Africa. Inserting an "eave tube" with electrostatic netting coated in insecticide under the roofline and closing all other gaps, however, helps draw mosquitoes into the tube, where they encounter a fatal dose of poison. Following successful field trials funded by the European Union, the foundation recently awarded $10.2 million to Dutch firm In2Care to run large-scale tests in forty villages in the West African country of Ivory Coast.

The second method involves attracting young male mosquitoes, which feed on nectar rather than blood, with an insecticide-laced bait — an approach known as "attractive toxic sugar bait" (ATSB). With initial funding  from the Gates Foundation and follow-up funding from the U.S. military, Israeli scientists have developed a long-lasting bait based on dates and sugar that can be used with a variety of insecticides, including benign compounds such as boric acid and garlic oil. Tests in Israel and West Africa have shown that used as a spray or in bait stations, the mixture can reduce mosquito populations by 90 percent or more — enough to encourage the Gates Foundation, in partnership with the UK-based Innovative Vector Control Consortium, to fund large-scale trials in Mali.

The two technologies could be "transformational," said Dan Strickman, a senior program officer at the foundation. The next challenge, however, will be to identify the approaches that work best in combination with existing medical treatments so as to shrink the footprint of the disease over the next ten to fifteen years, Karl Malamud-Roam, manager of Rutgers University's public health pesticides program, told the Seattle Times.

By that time, some of the more futuristic technologies like genetic engineering or a silver-bullet vaccine might be ready for prime time, added Penn State University entomologist Matt Thomas. "There's lots of innovation, lots of cool ideas for malaria," said Thomas, "but we really need things that can start saving lives in a timeline of three to five years."