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Monell Center receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant

The Monell Center announced today that it has received a US$100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will support an innovative global health research project conducted by Paul A. S. Breslin, PhD, titled "Taste-Guided Behavior on Mosquitoes Helps Eradicate Malaria."

Dr. Breslin's project is one of 81 grants announced by the Gates Foundation in the second 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 17 countries on six continents.

To receive funding, Breslin 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 more than 3,000 proposals in this round.

Breslin's grant focuses on the sense of taste in mosquitoes, with the overall goal of identifying new strategies to reduce transmission of malaria. Taste provides information that regulates whether a substance will be ingested as food or rejected. As such, the final decision of whether or not a mosquito will initiate a meal of human blood depends on how human skin tastes to the mosquito. Currently, little is known about the taste world of mosquitoes. Dr. Breslin proposes that a deeper understanding of mosquito taste will reveal novel approaches to the design of strategies to reduce mosquito-mediated disease transmission. As a first step, the studies funded by the Grand Challenges Explorations grant will assess taste responses of mosquitoes to a range of human skin compounds.

Paul Breslin is a sensory psychobiologist and geneticist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. The Grand Challenges Explorations mosquito project is an extension of his longstanding interests in taste and feeding. Breslin's Drosophila Chemosensory Laboratory at Monell uses the fruit fly as a model to understand the relationships between genetics, chemosensation, and feeding. Parallel studies in Breslin's lab address the genetics of taste, smell, and chemical irritation in humans.

"By deterring mosquito tasting on human skin, we can help to stop the transmission of devastating diseases such as malaria," said Breslin. "The Grand Challenges Explorations grant will enable us to find out what it is about humans that mosquitoes find tasty. With that critical piece of information, we can then develop inhibitors to those substances. Once humans no longer taste good to mosquitoes, they will no longer use us as food."

"The winners of these grants are doing truly exciting and innovative work," said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program. "I'm optimistic that some of these exploratory projects will lead to life-saving breakthroughs for people in the world's poorest countries."


Contact: Leslie Stein
Monell Chemical Senses Center

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