Note to Reporters: Photos of Dr. Brian Foy and his work are available with this news release online at www.news.colostate.edu.
Colorado State University has been selected as a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. CSU Associate Professor Brian Foy will pursue an innovative global health and development research project titled “Dry to Rainy Season Integrated Control of NTDs and Malaria.”
Grand Challenges Explorations funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Foy’s project is one of more than 60 Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
To receive funding, Foy and other GCE winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas.
The foundation is accepting applications for the current GCE round until 11:30 a.m. PDT on Nov. 12
Foy is using the grant to pioneer a new method for controlling malaria: giving humans a drug that makes their blood poisonous to the mosquitoes that carry the disease.
Malaria, which kills about 700,000 children a year, is considered one of the top three disease threats in the world, along with AIDS and tuberculosis. A new approach is needed to curtail the deadly disease since 60 percent to 90 percent of the mosquito population in regions like West Africa has developed resistance to the insecticides widely used on crops there.
Foy, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology at CSU, will conduct a clinical trial next spring in the African country of Burkina Faso.
In that country, villagers receive drugs annually to control diseases like river blindness and elephantiasis, and Foy has found evidence that there is a significant decline in malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the villages the week following administration of one of those drugs, ivermectin.
Foy’s clinical trial will be conducted during the transition from the dry season to rainy season, when the mosquito population explodes. For several months he will test his hypothesis that administering ivermectin more frequently will significantly curtail the spread of malaria.
The trial will focus on groups of villages: some in control groups and others in test groups. Instead of the single annual dose of ivermectin that the control groups will receive, the test groups will get at least six doses, administered approximately every three weeks.
The drug is generally without side effects, and so for simplicity it is given to most of the villagers regardless of whether they are infected with parasites or not. The problem is that many of the older villagers already carry the malaria parasite but have developed immunity to it, and they transmit the parasite via mosquitoes to the village children, who lack the immunity and get sick. Foy will be monitoring children age 5 and younger to see if they are protected in the test-group villages.
The additional doses of ivermectin are not expected to kill off a significant percentage of the mosquito population, but they will target the most important part: the adult females who actually carry the disease to humans. This species of mosquitoes only lives about 30 days, and once the insect contracts malaria, it takes about 12 days for the parasite to travel from the gut to the saliva, where it can then be transmitted to humans during a bug bite. The vast majority of the mosquito population is composed of young mosquitoes during the rainy season; only the females bite, and most are not old enough to transmit the disease to people.
“Our hypothesis is that giving this medication more often will kill off the old female mosquitoes,” Foy says, “and kids will get malaria less often because they are being bit less often by the mosquitoes transmitting the parasites.”
The increased dosage of ivermectin, along with continued annual administration of the drug albendazole, is expected to not only decrease the incidence of malaria, but better control the worm-borne diseases elephantiasis and soil-transmitted helminths.
Foy and one of his CSU colleagues, research scientist Haoues Alout, were in Burkina Faso to collect and test mosquitoes from August to October, and they found that significant numbers of the insects died within two or three days of being exposed to the drug during the week after it was administered. It was Foy’s seventh trip to West Africa in the past eight years.
Foy’s clinical trial, which will also involve the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets to protect villagers from being bitten while they sleep, is being conducted with the Burkina Faso Ministry of Health and that country’s Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé.
Over the past decade, CSU has received 37 grants totaling about $14.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a variety of research projects, including studies on tuberculosis such as the development of a diagnostic breath test for TB funded earlier this year.
About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 1,070 projects in more than 60 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.