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Bloomberg School receives $100K Grand Challenges Explorations grant

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health announced today that it has received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will support an innovative global health research project conducted by Jason Rasgon, PhD, an assistant professor with the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, and his research to develop an evolution-proof pesticide for eliminating mosquitoes that transmit malaria to humans.

Rasgon's project is one of 78 grants announced by the Gates Foundation in the fourth funding round of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to help scientists around the world explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve health in developing countries. The grants were provided to scientists in 18 countries on six continents.

To receive funding, Rasgon showed in a two-page application how his idea falls outside current scientific paradigms and might lead to significant advances in global health. The initiative is highly competitive, receiving almost 2,700 proposals in this round.

Rasgon's work towards developing an evolution-proof pesticide for mosquitoes builds upon his earlier research. In 2008, he and his colleagues identified the virus AgDNV, a previously unknown mosquito virus that is infectious to Anopheles gambiaethe mosquito primarily responsible for transmitting malaria to humans.

According to Rasgon, the virus could be potentially altered to deliver genes that would kill An. gambiae or make the mosquito incapable of transmitting malaria. In earlier tests of the concept, Rasgon and his research team successfully used altered AgDNV to express harmless green fluorescent protein (GFP) in the adult mosquitoes, which could be easily spotted under the microscope.

"Our latest research will focus on using the virus to instruct the mosquito to die after approximately 10 days, which is shorter than the time it takes for it to transmit the malaria parasite to humans," explained Rasgon. "Unlike traditional insecticides that kill instantly, an AgDNV-based insecticide could give the mosquitoes time to reproduce, which would make it less likely for resistance to evolve. Resistance to insecticides is a big problem for control of vector-borne diseases such as malaria."

"The winners of these grants show the bold thinking we need to tackle some of the world's greatest health challenges," said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program. "I'm excited about their ideas and look forward to seeing some of these exploratory projects turn into lifesaving breakthroughs."


Contact: Tim Parsons
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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