NIH News Advisory
National Institute of
Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Thursday, July 12, 2001
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
(301) 402-1663

NIAID Focus on International Bug-Borne Disease Research Now Online
Insects spread many infectious diseases across the globe, killing millions of people each year and sickening many more. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) today is releasing Focus on Bug-Borne Disease Research: International, the second of a two-part Web series designed to highlight key areas of research in diseases transmitted to humans by mosquitoes, ticks and other arthropods.

This second installment concentrates on diseases found largely outside the United States, including malaria, dengue "breakbone" fever, leishmaniasis and river blindness. The site highlights efforts by NIAID researchers to understand infectious disease processes and the environmental factors that affect spread and transmission. The information gained by studying the biology of these diseases enables scientists to develop effective new diagnostics, treatments, vaccines and other prevention methods.

The Web site can be accessed at research highlights include the following:

Insect and Parasite Genomes

NIAID leads a major effort to determine the genetic blueprints of many of the world's most common and most dangerous microbes. The Institute also contributes to an international consortium that is unraveling the complete genome of the Anopheles mosquito, the insect responsible for malaria. By understanding the genes involved in microbe-insect interactions, and those genes the pathogen uses to infect people, NIAID researchers hope to learn new ways to prevent and treat infectious diseases.

Vaccine and Drug Research

NIAID scientists employ the latest technologies to identify and test promising new drugs and vaccines. The effectiveness of many drugs is hindered by drug-resistant microbes or toxic side effects. As researchers continue to focus on the basic biology of infectious organisms, new potential targets are being found that might lead to improved treatments or vaccines.

Genetically Modified Insects

One potential way to slow the spread of insect-borne diseases is to prevent the insects from carrying the infectious microbe. Chagas disease is caused by a parasite transmitted to people as the result of the bite of a "kissing bug," a saber-nosed, blood-feeding bug. If the parasites cannot infect or survive within their kissing bug hosts, the transmission cycle will be blocked. NIAID grantees are studying ways to genetically modify the bugs to prevent infection. Greenhouse experiments are planned to test whether the engineered bugs can survive and replace their wild-type cousins, thereby reducing the numbers of transmission-competent insects in the population.

Bug Saliva and Vaccines

Blood-feeding insects typically inject multiple chemicals into a bite site to help them acquire a blood meal. Anti-clotting agents, anesthetics and immune system modulators can all be found in the saliva of many of these insects. Researchers currently study how these compounds affect disease transmission. NIAID scientists have begun to test some of these salivary proteins in vaccines, with the aim of enhancing immune responses to candidate parasite vaccines.

Ecology of Bug-Borne Diseases

Researchers study insect populations and their geographic distributions and behavior with the hope of predicting regions at high risk for disease outbreaks. One group of scientists studies how certain plants might reduce the incidence of leishmaniasis in some regions, while another group investigates how infection with one parasite might affect susceptibility to other microbes. Some of these studies are part of NIAID's global health research initiative, providing resources for physicians and scientists from endemic regions to work with NIAID researchers on the diseases that plague their local communities.

Focus on Bug-Borne Disease Research: International contains highlights of this and similar research, and includes links to additional information as well as to the researchers' Web sites. The site is designed to be a valuable resource for learning more about bug-borne diseases and to provide story ideas for journalists.

For more information or to schedule an interview with one of our expert researchers, please contact the NIAID Office of Communications and Public Liaison at (301) 402-1663.

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.

Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at