To spray or not to spray – and potentially, what with: EU-funded researchers are developing a sophisticated system to facilitate analyses of mosquitoes and their mechanisms of resistance to insecticides, support data sharing and refine decision-making processes. Scientists in Cameroon are helping to advance this bid to boost malaria vector control.


© nechaevkon #252210706, 2020

The DMC-MalVec project is working on an integrated solution that will combine three main components: a fully automated diagnostic platform (LabDisk) for the analysis of mosquitoes, a dedicated data management system (DDMS) and a “serious game” designed to raise end-user awareness of guidelines and good practices in vector control.

“It is a unique project that combines new systems to diagnose malaria vectors, use of the collected data in a dedicated management system, and exploitation of the data in order to influence malaria control on our continent, which is the one most affected by the disease,” says Josiane Etang of project partner OCEAC.

Her organisation, which is headquartered in Cameroon, coordinates a wide variety of efforts to tackle endemic diseases in Central Africa. Etang is the organisation’s principal investigator for the research it contributes to DMC-MalVec. “The integrated LabDisk-DDMS-Game platform will be a very important step forward,” she notes.

With the project due to end in February 2020, completion of the system is moving into sight, Etang reports. The prototype of the LabDisk that will underpin the analytical part of the system should be ready for integration into the complete system in October, she adds. Developed in Germany, Greece and Switzerland using mosquitoes raised in the lab, this lab-on-a-chip component will then be validated by OCEAC and the other African institutions involved in the collaboration using field-caught mosquito specimens.

The ability to do so within the project is one of DMC-MalVec’s key strengths, Etang notes. “When tools are just developed in the laboratory and you have no option to validate them using field samples, they may just stay in the lab and never become remotely useful to the communities that are suffering,” she explains.

Testing of all three parts of the system is already in progress in four representative countries, and wider dissemination within and beyond these countries – Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Zambia – is due to begin, says Etang. OCEAC, as an organisation that in itself encompasses six African states, is ideally positioned to help spread the word, she adds.

Mosquito analysis on the fly

The analytical component will help to make crucial information available faster and more affordably while mobilising fewer human resources, Etang explains. It will simultaneously handle several tests that currently involve a number of separate experiments, she emphasises.

More specifically, it will enable users to determine what species of mosquito they are dealing with, whether it is carrying the parasite that causes malaria, and whether it is of a strain on which some insecticides might no longer work due to modification of particular genes. Malaria can be transmitted by various species of Anopheles mosquitoes, among which a number carrying mutations that cause resistance to specific insecticides have emerged, Etang notes.

The results expected from the analyses using the LabDisk will add to the extensive information already available in the data management system – the project’s African partners have painstakingly gathered relevant historical data held in archives and journals, Etang notes. With the new system, these figures are now much easier to centralise, access and share, she points out.

Netting success

Crucially, the platform is meant not only to inform decisions, but also to document how they played out, Etang underlines. “If you just implement an intervention and you don’t have the means to follow up on its outcomes and decide where to target the next one, the effort would just be wasted,” she says.

Along with the project’s scientific advances, Etang lists the capacity-building opportunities that it provided among DMC-MalVec’s main achievements. “The project enabled us to recruit and train a number of young scientists, which was a very valuable outcome as more entomologists are needed to address vector control challenges in Africa,” she notes.

And she also highlights the collaboration generated by the project. Working together, European and African research institutes can achieve more, Etang concludes, expressing her hope that the DMC-MalVec partners will find ways to pursue their cooperation – to take their new solution forward, and possibly also to tackle further challenges together.

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