Armed with NIH grant, UMD researchers work to cure malaria

A team of university and industry researchers are one step closer to curing malaria with a $3 million grant in hand from the National Institute of Health.

The three-year business grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, a division of NIH, funds an existing partnership between the university’s Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research and the biotechnology company Sanaria, in genetically modifying mosquitos. Entemology professor David O’Brochta has been working on the project for a few years, and his team of university and Sanaria researchers hope the grant will allow them to finalize their Sporozite vaccine.

Although the official award of the grant came in January, the funding have just started coming in, said Stephen Hoffman, CEO of Sanaria. Hoffman said he hopes to finalize a vaccine within three to four years.

O’Brochta said because mosquitos spread malaria through parasite-infected saliva glands, researchers can create a vaccine from harvesting this saliva. While Sanaria has been carrying out this process, some mosquitos carry far fewer parasites than others, he said; in order to make the vaccine affordable, researchers must find a way to maximize how many parasites are in the mosquitos.

In the Insect Transformation Facility at IBBR, researchers will work to genetically engineer mosquitos to be incredibly susceptible to infection, and therefore would become more infected by parasites so Sanaria can harvest greater quantities and produce more vaccine.

Partnerships like IBBR’s with Sanaria allow the university to pair research with real problems, O’Brochta said. While university researchers had expertise in mosquito biology, they gained a practical application by working to eradicate malaria.

“There are extensive connections between IBBR and UMCP, and many researchers have joint appointments here,” vice president of research Pat O’Shea wrote in an email. “This is a wonderful example of how our translational (applied) research will result is great benefits to people in regions afflicted with malaria.”

— Rashee Raj Kumar is a student blogger for The Diamondback


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