Ng’anda ya Mansenya - The Mosquito House
Field Station in Rural Zambia
Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute
Macha Research Trust
While deaths from malaria have decreased in recent years, it still remains, together with AIDS and tuberculosis, among the biggest infectious disease killers in the world. Well over half a million people still die of malaria every year, mostly African children under the age of five. Clearly, the means at our disposal to fight the disease are insufficient. The development of new weapons to fight malaria must have our highest priority.
A decade ago, the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute (JHMRI) together with the Macha Research Trust (MRT) set up a research station for conducting malaria research in the field. Located in Macha, a rural village, in Southern Zambia, miles from the nearest paved road, seasonal malaria was heavily endemic. Since then, the number of malaria cases in the area dramatically decreased, and efforts are currently under way for the local elimination of the disease. Such efforts are supported in part by the JHMRI and, more recently, by a seven-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “International Centers of Excellence for Malaria Research (ICEMR)” led by the head of JHMRI, Dr. Peter Agre.
Other projects led by JHMRI faculty George Dimopoulos, Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena and Douglas Norris seek to develop innovative approaches to fight malaria. These will be spear-headed at Macha by Resident Entomologist Jennifer Stevenson. One approach consists of using genetic modification of the mosquito vector or of bacteria that live in the mosquito gut. For this, genes whose products specifically kill the malaria parasite in the mosquito are introduced into mosquitoes or bacteria. By rendering the mosquito incapable of sustaining the parasite cycle, transmission is interrupted thus curtailing malaria prevalence. Preliminary laboratory evidence indicates that these approaches are effective. The feasibility of implementing these approaches must now be tested under conditions like those in the field. Projects pursued by Douglas Norris that investigate the optimal use of mosquito nets are also in need of controlled semi-field studies.
With this need in mind, the JHMRI has built a large screen-enclosed facility named “Ng’anda ya Mansenya” (Tonga for “Mosquito House”), where large numbers of vector mosquitoes can be reared under conditions that simulate the field (Fig. 1, with explanatory legend). This facility is nearly complete and on March 4, 2014 was presented to the local Macha community in a ceremony attended by the community leaders, including Chief Macha and the Headmen of the area, as well as the Bishop of the Brethren in Christ Church. Final steps for setting up the Mosquito House will be concluded shortly and experiments to test the laboratory-derived organisms can then be initiated. This JHMRI-led initiative promises to lead to new tools that will reduce the unacceptably high global burden of malaria.