Scientists bring new repellant to malaria fight

ISLAMABAD: It’s a daily occurrence for many of us as summer rapidly approaches – the nearly undetectable siphoning of blood by a mosquito that results in a swollen patch of skin and incessant itching.

Yet for many around the world, these routine nuisances have lethal consequences given that the common mosquito, or anopheles gambiae, is a key transmitter of malaria, a potentially life-threatening disease caused by parasites, Anadolu News Agency reported.

Indeed the World Health Organization says mosquitoes and the disease they carry are responsible for the deaths of nearly 630,000 people per year, principally African children.

And some 80 percent of the deaths from malaria occur in only 14 countries, with the majority in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, according to Dr. Keith Carter, an advisor for Malaria control at the World Health Organization.

“It takes the blood cells in your body and pulverizes them,” said Laurence Slutsker, the Centers for Disease Control’s director of the division of parasitic diseases and malaria.
Beyond the deaths caused by the disease, it causes hundreds of millions to get sick, resulting in additional medical costs and a drag on local economies through lost productivity, said Slutsker.

Scientists though, are hopeful that may soon change. Researchers at Vanderbilt University in the U.S. state of Tennessee have discovered a new repellant, known for now simply as VUAA1, that they claim works far better than any exisiting bug spray.

Rather than confuse the insect’s ability to smell its target, which has been the conventional approach in such compounds as the ubiquitous DEET (Diethyl- meta-toluamide), VUAA1 takes a unique approach to combatting the insect – it over stimulates them.

In essence, VUAA1 overloads their sense of smell until they are forced to flee, akin to how someone would react if stuck in a confined space with a person wearing too much perfume.

“Our approach was to target the olfactory system and throw everything we possibly could at it in a high throughput way to see what happened,” said Laurence Zwiebel, the Vanderbilt project’s principal investigator, of the receptors insects use to smell.

Beyond the mosquito, the repellant has proven effective on all insects on which it has been tested because of its ability to overwhelm an insect’s smell receptors.