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EXPLORE IDM’S CURRENT RESEARCH PUBLICATIONS

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BIORXIV

Vector control has been a key component in the fight against malaria for decades, and chemical insecticides are critical to the success of vector control programs worldwide. However, increasing resistance to insecticides threatens to undermine these efforts. Understanding the evolution and propagation of resistance is thus imperative to mitigating loss of intervention effectiveness. Additionally, accelerated research and development of new tools that can be deployed alongside existing vector control strategies is key to eradicating malaria in the near future. Methods such as gene drives that aim to genetically modify large mosquito populations in the wild to either render them refractory to malaria or impair their reproduction may prove invaluable tools. Mathematical models of gene flow in populations can offer invaluable insight into the behavior and potential impact of gene drives as well as the spread of insecticide resistance in the wild. Here, we present the first multi-locus, agent-based model of vector genetics that accounts for mutations and many-to-many mappings of genotypes to phenotypes to investigate gene flow and the propagation of gene drives in Anopheline populations. This model is embedded within a large scale individual-based model of malaria transmission representative of a high burden, high transmission setting characteristic of the Sahel. Results are presented for the selection of insecticide-resistant vectors and the spread of resistance through repeated deployment of insecticide treated nets (ITNs), in addition to scenarios where gene drives act in concert with existing vector control tools such as ITNs. The roles of seasonality, spatial distribution of vector habitat and feed sites, and existing vector control in propagating alleles that confer phenotypic traits via gene drives that result in reduced transmission are explored. The ability to model a spectrum of vector species with different genotypes and phenotypes in the context of malaria transmission allows us to test deployment strategies for existing interventions that reduce the deleterious effects of resistance and allows exploration of the impact of new tools being proposed or developed.

Emmanuel P. Mwanga, Elihaika G. Minja, Emmanuel Mrimi, Mario González Jiménez, Johnson K. Swai, Said Abbasi, Halfan S. Ngowo, Doreen J. Siria, Salum Mapua, Caleb Stica, Marta F. Maia, Ally Olotu, Maggy T. Sikulu-Lord, Francesco Baldini, Heather M. Ferguson, Klaas Wynne, Prashanth Selvaraj, Simon A. Babayan & Fredros O. Okumu

MALARIA JOURNAL

Background

Epidemiological surveys of malaria currently rely on microscopy, polymerase chain reaction assays (PCR) or rapid diagnostic test kits for Plasmodium infections (RDTs). This study investigated whether mid-infrared (MIR) spectroscopy coupled with supervised machine learning could constitute an alternative method for rapid malaria screening, directly from dried human blood spots.

Methods

Filter papers containing dried blood spots (DBS) were obtained from a cross-sectional malaria survey in 12 wards in southeastern Tanzania in 2018/19. The DBS were scanned using attenuated total reflection-Fourier Transform Infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectrometer to obtain high-resolution MIR spectra in the range 4000 cm−1 to 500 cm−1. The spectra were cleaned to compensate for atmospheric water vapour and CO2 interference bands and used to train different classification algorithms to distinguish between malaria-positive and malaria-negative DBS papers based on PCR test results as reference. The analysis considered 296 individuals, including 123 PCR-confirmed malaria positives and 173 negatives. Model training was done using 80% of the dataset, after which the best-fitting model was optimized by bootstrapping of 80/20 train/test-stratified splits. The trained models were evaluated by predicting Plasmodium falciparum positivity in the 20% validation set of DBS.

Results

Logistic regression was the best-performing model. Considering PCR as reference, the models attained overall accuracies of 92% for predicting P. falciparum infections (specificity = 91.7%; sensitivity = 92.8%) and 85% for predicting mixed infections of P. falciparum and Plasmodium ovale (specificity = 85%, sensitivity = 85%) in the field-collected specimen.

Conclusion

These results demonstrate that mid-infrared spectroscopy coupled with supervised machine learning (MIR-ML) could be used to screen for malaria parasites in human DBS. The approach could have potential for rapid and high-throughput screening of Plasmodium in both non-clinical settings (e.g., field surveys) and clinical settings (diagnosis to aid case management). However, before the approach can be used, we need additional field validation in other study sites with different parasite populations, and in-depth evaluation of the biological basis of the MIR signals. Improving the classification algorithms, and model training on larger datasets could also improve specificity and sensitivity. The MIR-ML spectroscopy system is physically robust, low-cost, and requires minimum maintenance.

MALARIA JOURNAL

Background

While bed nets and insecticide spraying have had significant impact on malaria burden in many endemic regions, outdoor vector feeding and insecticide resistance may ultimately limit their contribution to elimination and control campaigns. Complementary vector control methods such as endectocides or systemic insecticides, where humans or animals are treated with drugs that kill mosquitoes upon ingestion via blood meal, are therefore generating much interest. This work explores the conditions under which long-lasting systemic insecticides would have a substantial impact on transmission and burden.

Methods

Hypothetical long-lasting systemic insecticides with effective durations ranging from 14 to 90 days are simulated using an individual-based mathematical model of malaria transmission. The impact of systemic insecticides when used to complement existing vector control and drug campaigns is evaluated in three settings—a highly seasonal high-transmission setting, a near-elimination setting with seasonal travel to a high-risk area, and a near-elimination setting in southern Africa.

Results

At 60% coverage, a single round of long-lasting systemic insecticide with effective duration of at least 60 days, distributed at the start of the season alongside a seasonal malaria chemoprevention campaign in a high-transmission setting, results in further burden reduction of 30–90% depending on the sub-populations targeted. In a near-elimination setting where transmission is sustained by seasonal travel to a high-risk area, targeting high-risk travellers with systemic insecticide with effective duration of at least 30 days can result in likely elimination even if intervention coverage is as low as 50%. In near-elimination settings with robust vector control, the addition of a 14-day systemic insecticide alongside an anti-malarial in mass drug administration (MDA) campaigns can decrease the necessary MDA coverage from about 85% to the more easily achievable 65%.

Conclusions

While further research into the safety profile of systemic insecticides is necessary before deployment, models predict that long-lasting systemic insecticides can play a critical role in reducing burden or eliminating malaria in a range of contexts with different target populations, existing malaria control methods, and transmission intensities. Continued investment in lengthening the duration of systemic insecticides and improving their safety profile is needed for this intervention to achieve its fullest potential.

Emmanuel P. Mwanga, Salum A. Mapua, Doreen J. Siria, Halfan S. Ngowo, Francis Nangacha, Joseph Mgando, Francesco Baldini, Mario González Jiménez, Heather M. Ferguson, Klaas Wynne, Prashanth Selvaraj, Simon A. Babayan & Fredros O. Okumu

MALARIA JOURNAL

Background

The propensity of different Anopheles mosquitoes to bite humans instead of other vertebrates influences their capacity to transmit pathogens to humans. Unfortunately, determining proportions of mosquitoes that have fed on humans, i.e. Human Blood Index (HBI), currently requires expensive and time-consuming laboratory procedures involving enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) or polymerase chain reactions (PCR). Here, mid-infrared (MIR) spectroscopy and supervised machine learning are used to accurately distinguish between vertebrate blood meals in guts of malaria mosquitoes, without any molecular techniques.

Methods

Laboratory-reared Anopheles arabiensis females were fed on humans, chickens, goats or bovines, then held for 6 to 8 h, after which they were killed and preserved in silica. The sample size was 2000 mosquitoes (500 per host species). Five individuals of each host species were enrolled to ensure genotype variability, and 100 mosquitoes fed on each. Dried mosquito abdomens were individually scanned using attenuated total reflection-Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectrometer to obtain high-resolution MIR spectra (4000 cm−1 to 400 cm−1). The spectral data were cleaned to compensate atmospheric water and CO2 interference bands using Bruker-OPUS software, then transferred to Python™ for supervised machine-learning to predict host species. Seven classification algorithms were trained using 90% of the spectra through several combinations of 75–25% data splits. The best performing model was used to predict identities of the remaining 10% validation spectra, which had not been used for model training or testing.

Results

The logistic regression (LR) model achieved the highest accuracy, correctly predicting true vertebrate blood meal sources with overall accuracy of 98.4%. The model correctly identified 96% goat blood meals, 97% of bovine blood meals, 100% of chicken blood meals and 100% of human blood meals. Three percent of bovine blood meals were misclassified as goat, and 2% of goat blood meals misclassified as human.

Conclusion

Mid-infrared spectroscopy coupled with supervised machine learning can accurately identify multiple vertebrate blood meals in malaria vectors, thus potentially enabling rapid assessment of mosquito blood-feeding histories and vectorial capacities. The technique is cost-effective, fast, simple, and requires no reagents other than desiccants. However, scaling it up will require field validation of the findings and boosting relevant technical capacity in affected countries.

Hannah C. Slater, Amanda Ross, Ingrid Felger, Natalie E. Hofmann, Leanne Robinson, Jackie Cook, Bronner P. Gonçalves, Anders Björkman, André Lin Ouédraogo, Ulrika Morris, Mwinyi Msellem, Cristian Koepfli, Ivo Mueller, Fitsum Tadesse, Endalamaw Gadisa, Smita Das, Gonzalo Domingo, Melissa Kapulu, Janet Midega, Seth Owusu-Agyei, Cécile Nabet, Renaud Piarroux, Ogobara Doumbo, Safiatou Niare Doumbo, Kwadwo Koram, Naomi Lucchi, Venkatachalam Udhayakumar, Jacklin Mosha, Alfred Tiono, Daniel Chandramohan, Roly Gosling, Felista Mwingira, Robert Sauerwein, Eleanor M Riley, Nicholas J White, Francois Nosten, Mallika Imwong, Teun Bousema, Chris Drakeley, Lucy C Okell

NATURE COMMUNICATIONS

Malaria infections occurring below the limit of detection of standard diagnostics are common in all endemic settings. However, key questions remain surrounding their contribution to sustaining transmission and whether they need to be detected and targeted to achieve malaria elimination. In this study we analyse a range of malaria datasets to quantify the density, detectability, course of infection and infectiousness of subpatent infections. Asymptomatically infected individuals have lower parasite densities on average in low transmission settings compared to individuals in higher transmission settings. In cohort studies, subpatent infections are found to be predictive of future periods of patent infection and in membrane feeding studies, individuals infected with subpatent asexual parasite densities are found to be approximately a third as infectious to mosquitoes as individuals with patent (asexual parasite) infection. These results indicate that subpatent infections contribute to the infectious reservoir, may be long lasting, and require more sensitive diagnostics to detect them in lower transmission settings.

BMC INFECTIOUS DISEASES

Background

Malaria transmission is both seasonal and heterogeneous, and mathematical models that seek to predict the effects of possible intervention strategies should accurately capture realistic seasonality of vector abundance, seasonal dynamics of within-host effects, and heterogeneity of exposure, which may also vary seasonally.

Methods

Prevalence, incidence, asexual parasite and gametocyte densities, and infectiousness measurements from eight study sites in sub-Saharan Africa were used to calibrate an individual-based model with innate and adaptive immunity. Data from the Garki Project was used to fit exposure rates and parasite densities with month-resolution. A model capturing Garki seasonality and seasonal heterogeneity of exposure was used as a framework for characterizing the infectious reservoir of malaria, testing optimal timing of indoor residual spraying, and comparing four possible mass drug campaign implementations for malaria control.

Results

Seasonality as observed in Garki sites is neither sinusoidal nor box-like, and substantial heterogeneity in exposure arises from dry-season biting. Individuals with dry-season exposure likely account for the bulk of the infectious reservoir during the dry season even when they are a minority in the overall population. Spray campaigns offer the most benefit in prevalence reduction when implemented just prior to peak vector abundance, which may occur as late as a couple months into the wet season, and targeting spraying to homes of individuals with dry-season exposure can be particularly effective. Expanding seasonal malaria chemoprevention programs to cover older children is predicted to increase the number of cases averted per treatment and is therefore recommended for settings of seasonal and intense transmission.

Conclusions

Accounting for heterogeneity and seasonality in malaria transmission is critical for understanding transmission dynamics and predicting optimal timing and targeting of control and elimination interventions.

John M. Marshall, Sean L. Wu, Hector M. Sanchez C., Samson S. Kiware, Micky Ndhlovu, André Lin Ouédraogo, Mahamoudou B. Touré, Hugh J. Sturrock, Azra C. Ghani, Neil M. Ferguson

SCIENTIFIC REPORTS

As Africa-wide malaria prevalence declines, an understanding of human movement patterns is essential to inform how best to target interventions. We fitted movement models to trip data from surveys conducted at 3–5 sites throughout each of Mali, Burkina Faso, Zambia and Tanzania. Two models were compared in terms of their ability to predict the observed movement patterns – a gravity model, in which movement rates between pairs of locations increase with population size and decrease with distance, and a radiation model, in which travelers are cumulatively “absorbed” as they move outwards from their origin of travel. The gravity model provided a better fit to the data overall and for travel to large populations, while the radiation model provided a better fit for nearby populations. One strength of the data set was that trips could be categorized according to traveler group – namely, women traveling with children in all survey countries and youth workers in Mali. For gravity models fitted to data specific to these groups, youth workers were found to have a higher travel frequency to large population centers, and women traveling with children a lower frequency. These models may help predict the spatial transmission of malaria parasites and inform strategies to control their spread.

PLOS PATHOGENS

Malaria transmission remains high in Sub-Saharan Africa despite large-scale implementation of malaria control interventions. A comprehensive understanding of the transmissibility of infections to mosquitoes may guide the design of more effective transmission reducing strategies. The impact of P. falciparum sexual stage immunity on the infectious reservoir for malaria has never been studied in natural settings. Repeated measurements were carried out at start-wet, peak-wet and dry season, and provided data on antibody responses against gametocyte/gamete antigens Pfs48/45 and Pfs230 as anti-gametocyte immunity. Data on high and low-density infections and their infectiousness to anopheline mosquitoes were obtained using quantitative molecular methods and mosquito feeding assays, respectively. An event-driven model for P. falciparum sexual stage immunity was developed and fit to data using an agent based malaria model infrastructure. We found that Pfs48/45 and Pfs230 antibody densities increased with increasing concurrent gametocyte densities; associated with 55–70% reduction in oocyst intensity and achieved up to 44% reduction in proportions of infected mosquitoes. We showed that P. falciparum sexual stage immunity significantly reduces transmission of microscopic (p < 0.001) but not submicroscopic (p = 0.937) gametocyte infections to mosquitoes and that incorporating sexual stage immunity into mathematical models had a considerable impact on the contribution of different age groups to the infectious reservoir of malaria. Human antibody responses to gametocyte antigens are likely to be dependent on recent and concurrent high-density gametocyte exposure and have a pronounced impact on the likelihood of onward transmission of microscopic gametocyte densities compared to low density infections. Our mathematical simulations indicate that anti-gametocyte immunity is an important factor for predicting and understanding the composition and dynamics of the human infectious reservoir for malaria.

INTERNATIONAL HEALTH

Background

Mass drug administration (MDA) is a control and elimination tool for treating infectious diseases. For malaria, it is widely accepted that conducting MDA during the dry season results in the best outcomes. However, seasonal movement of populations into and out of MDA target areas is common in many places and could potentially fundamentally limit the ability of MDA campaigns to achieve elimination.

Methods

A mathematical model was used to simulate malaria transmission in two villages connected to a high-risk area into and out of which 10% of villagers traveled seasonally. MDA was given only in the villages. Prevalence reduction under various possible timings of MDA and seasonal travel was predicted.

Results

MDA is most successful when distributed outside the traveling season and during the village low-transmission season. MDA is least successful when distributed during the traveling season and when traveling overlaps with the peak transmission season in the high-risk area. Mistiming MDA relative to seasonal travel resulted in much poorer outcomes than mistiming MDA relative to the peak transmission season within the villages.

Conclusions

Seasonal movement patterns of high-risk groups should be taken into consideration when selecting the optimum timing of MDA campaigns.

Will J. R. Stone, Joseph J. Campo, André Lin Ouédraogo, Lisette Meerstein-Kessel, Isabelle Morlais, Dari Da, Anna Cohuet, Sandrine Nsango, Colin J. Sutherland, Marga van de Vegte-Bolmer, Rianne Siebelink-Stoter, Geert-Jan van Gemert, Wouter Graumans, Kjerstin Lanke, Adam D. Shandling, Jozelyn V. Pablo, Andy A. Teng, Sophie Jones, Roos M. de Jong, Amanda Fabra-García, John Bradley, Will Roeffen, Edwin Lasonder, Giuliana Gremo, Evelin Schwarzer, Chris J. Janse, Susheel K. Singh, Michael Theisen, Phil Felgner, Matthias Marti, Chris Drakeley, Robert Sauerwein, Teun Bousema, and Matthijs M. Jore

NATURE COMMUNICATIONS

Background

Infection with Plasmodium can elicit antibodies that inhibit parasite survival in the mosquito, when they are ingested in an infectious blood meal. Here, we determine the transmission-reducing activity (TRA) of naturally acquired antibodies from 648 malaria-exposed individuals using lab-based mosquito-feeding assays. Transmission inhibition is significantly associated with antibody responses to Pfs48/45, Pfs230, and to 43 novel gametocyte proteins assessed by protein microarray. In field-based mosquito-feeding assays the likelihood and rate of mosquito infection are significantly lower for individuals reactive to Pfs48/45, Pfs230 or to combinations of the novel TRA-associated proteins. We also show that naturally acquired purified antibodies against key transmission-blocking epitopes of Pfs48/45 and Pfs230 are mechanistically involved in TRA, whereas sera depleted of these antibodies retain high-level, complement-independent TRA. Our analysis demonstrates that host antibody responses to gametocyte proteins are associated with reduced malaria transmission efficiency from humans to mosquitoes.

Results

Antibody responses to gametocyte antigens

Plasma was collected in epidemiological studies in Burkina, Faso37, Cameroon and the Gambia, as well as from Dutch migrants who had lived for several years in malaria-endemic areas and reported repeated malaria episodes. Individuals from malaria-endemic areas were all asymptomatic when sampled, and were either recruited randomly from the community, or based on the observation of malaria parasites or specifically gametocytes (n = 276) in blood smears.