Notre Dame receives its largest research award to study spatial repellents against mosquito-borne diseases

Author: Jessica Sieff

The University of Notre Dame will lead a five-year program to determine the efficacy of a spatial repellent product in preventing mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and Chikungunya.

Unitaid

Unitaid will fund the $33.7 million effort. It is the largest research grant awarded to a single proposal in Notre Dame’s history. Unitaid is an international organization that invests in new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, tuberculosis and malaria more quickly, more affordably and more effectively. It accelerates access to innovation so that critical health products can reach the people who most need them. Unitaid’s work facilitates large-scale introduction of health products through funding by the Global Fund, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and by governments.

“This grant will enable research with the potential to transform the lives of millions of people around the world who suffer from mosquito-borne disease,” said Robert J. Bernhard, Notre Dame’s vice president of research. “We’re grateful for the confidence Unitaid has shown in the University of Notre Dame to lead this program.”

The program will include two clinical trials, one in Kenya and one in Sri Lanka, as well as studies among displaced populations in Mali and in refugee settings in Uganda. The goal of the program will be to further generate evidence to support a recommendation to the World Health Organization (WHO) of spatial repellent use for public health purposes and to inform the optimal delivery and implementation of use within humanitarian response situations.

Grieco And Student

“The global burden of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue can overwhelm health systems,” said John Grieco, research associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and associate director of the Eck Institute for Global Health at the University of Notre Dame and principal investigator on the project. “Current interventions such as insecticidal nets and indoor and outdoor spraying of chemicals have helped to reduce transmissions in some cases, but not in all. We need new products to support ongoing mosquito control efforts with our ultimate goal being elimination of these diseases.”

The World Malaria Report, an annual report published by WHO, estimated 219 million new cases of malaria and 435,000 deaths in 2017, and it estimates dengue to affect more than 3.97 billion people across 128 countries. Although gains have been made in reducing these mosquito-borne diseases, international governmental and nongovernmental agencies are continually challenged by these illnesses due to limitations in both technical support and mosquito control options. In addition, political and/or environmental crises can result in refugee situations — including displaced families living in temporary shelters, where current mosquito vector control tools are not practical. New public health tools under development, such as spatial repellent products, can play a life-saving role.

Spatial repellents release volatile chemicals into the air to inhibit certain insect behaviors such as feeding and encourage movement away from a treated space. Grieco and his team will evaluate the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of scalable spatial repellents in reducing and protecting against new infections of malaria and dengue in order to provide key decision makers with data to inform public health strategies in endemic countries.

“Notre Dame has long been a global leader in vector-borne disease research,” said Mary Galvin, William K. Warren Foundation Dean of the College of Science at Notre Dame. “I’m proud to have John and these researchers in the college, and am confident this team of international collaborators will utilize this funding to advance innovative solutions and address these world health issues.”

With Unitaid’s funding and support, Notre Dame will lead management, oversight and administration of the program. Grieco and his team — Notre Dame researchers Nicole Achee, Alex Perkins, Sean Moore, Fang Liu, Neil Lobo and Jarek Nabrzyski — will be responsible for coordination and implementation of all aspects of the study.

The team will work, with industry partner SC Johnson to develop the novel spatial repellent delivery method, advance the insect-borne disease research and test the product in multiple endemic areas around the world, as well as with a number of consortium members, including the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Catholic Relief Services, the National Dengue Control Unit in Sri Lanka and the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs. Notre Dame will also partner with FHI 360, a clinical research organization, which will assure the quality and integrity of data collected.

Contact: Jessica Sieff, assistant director of media relations, 574-631-3933, jsieff@nd.edu

Originally published by Jessica Sieff at news.nd.edu on February 11, 2019.