Using natural bacteria to control disease transmission by mosquitoes: a quantitative approach

In a new effort to prevent dengue fever, mosquitoes carrying a life-altering bacterium are released to replace the wild population. Caetano Mendes is working on predicting the consequences of their release in affected areas of Rio de Janeiro.
While vector-borne diseases are a huge public health burden in tropical and subtropical countries, as well as increasingly present in temperate ones – Trypanosomiasis, Leishmaniasis, Yellow Fever, West-Nile Virus are among emerging threats; Malaria still causes around a million deaths yearly, and Dengue virus has one third of the world population at risk – adequate treatments and vaccination are still lacking for most of them. Vector control, therefore, is still in many cases the strategy of choice. Self-propagating intracellular bacteria which occur naturally in many insect species have recently been proposed as control strategy, due to its ability to reduce mosquito population by reducing average fecundity and lifespan, and induce resistance against pathogens. Such 'mosquito vaccines' are also an evolving strategy, and require new methods, analyses, and measures of efficiency and sustainability. Mathematical and statistical models and measures are necessary to evaluate efficacy of these strategies.
This project aims at developing these new tools, rooted in the laboratory and field work developed by collaborating groups around the world currently implementing this strategy in different countries. The recently announced implementation of the use of Wolbachia symbiont to control Dengue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is the real-world setting to which this work will be tailored - models and quantification are also to inform and drive laboratory and field work. Epidemiological and evolutionary aspects of this approach are the challenge faced by this project, and the knowledge derived from the experience is to be used to evaluate similar public health interventions beyond traditional measures of vaccine efficacy.


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Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian

Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC)