Cutting edge video technology used to develop new anti-malaria concepts
Understanding what makes insecticide-treated bed nets so effective against mosquitoes could lead to improved products and new market opportunities.
The EU-funded AVECNET project, which was launched in 2011, has made a number of advances in this field. Initial results have demonstrated that insecticidal bed nets function as a highly efficient trap. They do not repel mosquitoes, but deliver insecticide very rapidly after the briefest contact. Indications suggest that mosquitoes do not realise a net is treated before they touch it.
The findings could influence how scientists test mosquito populations for insecticide resistance and lead to improvements in the design of next generation bed nets. Scientists are now exploring a number of novel designs, which have already been patented as an outcome of AVECNET’s research.
New insecticides for combating susceptible and resistant mosquito populations are also being evaluated, while new traps have been developed for collecting mosquitoes that display different resting and host-seeking behaviours. The AVECNET project is currently performing a clinical trial on a new combination bed net in Burkina Faso.
The AVECNET team has pioneered the use of infrared video tracking technology. This technology uses a wavelength that is not perceived by mosquitoes so it does not change their natural behaviour. By following individual mosquitoes in flight, scientists have been able to measure and characterise in detail the behaviour of mosquitos as they interact with nets.
This gave researchers for the first time a clear view of how mosquitos approach and handle protective barriers. The tracking system was deployed in a swamp in Tanzania that is home to a population of mosquitoes where some are resistant to insecticide and others are not. The success of the project has also underlined potential applications for the technology in capturing all sorts of data.
‘There is a lot of interest in the analysis of so-called “big data” – here we have the added complexity of capturing information from the field with everything powered from petrol fuelled generators and we need very robust algorithms to be tolerant of the natural variability in behaviour exhibited by wild mosquitoes,’ said Prof David Towers, an engineering researcher at Warwick University.
Ultimately, the project results have the potential to save lives. While some 90 % of all malaria deaths still occur in Africa, significant improvements have been made in the region through the proliferation of safe and affordable insecticidal bed nets. These simple devices have played a huge role in reducing malaria deaths in Africa by over 50 % since 2000, according to the World Health Organisation.
Until the AVECNET project however, scientists have been unsure of exactly how insecticidal bed nets interact with mosquitos. This has limited their ability to improve net design. Furthermore, malaria mosquitoes are becoming rapidly resistant to commonly used insecticides, which has made the need to understand how nets work all the more urgent. The project is due for completion in January 2016.