NIAID has been a longstanding supporter and collaborator of Malian
scientists. "The Mali facility is a critical part of NIAID's efforts to
combat malaria," says Thomas J. Kindt, Ph.D., director of NIAID's Division
of Intramural Research (DIR). "The availability of a state-of-the-art
research center in an endemic region provides an invaluable base for studies
of the disease, its vector and its causative agent at every level. We hope
that the MRTC will continue to provide a base not only for NIAID-funded
scientists and their Malian counterparts, but also for committed health
professionals from all over the world."
The labs are part of the Malaria Research and Training Center (MRTC), which
opened in 1989. The MRTC works closely with the Malian Ministry of Health
as well as the National Malaria Control Program. The new facility will
house new and ongoing research and training programs, supported by NIAID's
DIR, the USAID, NIAID's Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases
(DMID), the NIH Office of Research and Minority Health, the NIH Fogarty
International Center, the World Health Organization and NASA. The new
building, which has recently been wired for Internet service, contains two
large labs, a conference room and library, and several classrooms.
"The benefit of the MRTC program is that Malian scientists carry out the
research," says Robert Gwadz, Ph.D., assistant chief of NIAID's Laboratory
of Parasitic Diseases. "Many Malian scientists come to the United States
for training and education, but then they return to Mali where they can
apply the most modern tools to the study of malaria."
Malaria is caused by a parasite that lives in Anopheles mosquitoes. An
infected mosquito can transmit the parasite to a human when the bug bites
and its infected saliva mixes with human blood. In the United States,
hundreds of cases of malaria -- most picked up by travelers overseas -- are
reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each year.
Elsewhere, in tropical climates such as Africa, Asia, and South and Central
America where mosquitoes thrive, malaria is at epidemic proportions. Each
year, an estimated 300 million people are infected with the malaria
parasite, and more than 1 million people, mostly children, die from the
The MRTC labs conduct a broad range of research activities, including
studies on the basic epidemiology of disease. Current MRTC program
objectives include the detection of parasite resistance to antimalarial
drugs; the role of hemoglobin C in malaria pathogenesis; and clinical and
field testing of malaria vaccine candidates.
Parasite resistance to antimalarial drugs is a serious concern. Scientists
have recently developed a series of tests that rapidly detect resistance in
malaria parasites. Researchers are also studying the role of hemoglobin C
in the prevention of malaria. Studies in village populations have found
that people with high concentrations of hemoglobin C in their blood are more
resistant to the malaria parasite, and less likely to develop or die from
serious disease. Researchers are also developing field sites for the
eventual testing of candidate malaria vaccines. They are collecting data on
seasonal changes that indicate when most people become infected with
malaria, studying the severity of these infections, and determining how a
vaccine would best be tested in a human population.
The new labs, primarily devoted to supporting malaria vaccine research and
the testing of vaccine candidates, will be an important collaborating
facility for DIR's Malaria Vaccine Development Unit located in Maryland, as
well as for other NIAID-supported investigators.
Although currently there is no vaccine available for the prevention of
malaria, two promising vaccine approaches are being investigated at the
MRTC: a blood-stage parasite vaccine and a transmission-blocking vaccine. A
blood-stage parasite vaccine attacks the stages of the parasite that cause
disease and death, while a transmission-blocking vaccine prevents the
transmission of malaria via mosquitoes from an infected person to a
MRTC researchers also take an active role in the control of malaria in
village populations by stressing better protocols for the treatment of sick
children. Outreach efforts have been very successful in teaching parents to
seek appropriate medical treatment for their children, thereby reducing
mortality rates and the spread of disease.
In addition to NIAID support, the MRTC labs receive funding from several
other international and U.S. agencies, organizations and universities. For
example, researchers supported by NIAID, NASA and NOAA are using geographic
information systems to detect climactic conditions that affect mosquito
populations and disease prevalence. By analyzing satellite imagery,
scientists can identify such conditions, including humidity, moisture and
areas of water, that attract mosquitoes and increase the potential for
disease outbreaks. "Both climate and remote sensing will be used to predict
malaria because climate brings water, water brings mosquitoes, and
mosquitoes bring malaria," says Dr. Gwadz. In other studies supported by
NIAID, as well as the World Health Organization and other foundations,
scientists are in the preliminary stages of studying the possible genetic
alteration of mosquitoes. Theoretically, scientists would remove the
disease-causing properties of the mosquito and then reintroduce the modified
mosquitoes into the environment, thereby replacing "bad" mosquitoes with
"good" mosquitoes. However, Dr. Gwadz cautions, "This is a very long-range
approach with many difficulties. It would not replace or compete with a
vaccine strategy, but be part of an integrated malaria control program."
The MRTC has recently entered the technology age by connecting to the
Internet via MaliNet, a local Internet service provider (ISP).
Unfortunately, overuse of the ISPs in Mali have made connections slow and
unreliable. Therefore, the MRTC is currently upgrading its Internet
connection to direct satellite uplinks, which are much faster and more
dependable than the local ISP connections. This direct link to the NIH
campus will enable Malian researchers to collaborate and exchange data with
researchers in Bethesda, MD.
The MRTC is also developing a wireless network using packet-radio to link
the most remote field research clinics to the Internet. This will allow
voice, fax and e-mail communications, and database updates from any location
within 1000 kilometers of Bamako, Mali.
Research efforts and opportunities at the MRTC are further enhanced by a
training program developed by the International Research Unit of NIAID's
Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases. This program offers a unique opportunity
for undergraduate and graduate minority students interested in biomedical
research to obtain experience in emerging infectious and tropical disease
research. Students work under the direction of research or clinical mentors
in Africa. The program is sponsored by NIAID and the NIH Fogarty
International Center, and the Office of Research on Minority Health. The
University of Maryland School of Medicine directs the program in cooperation
with the University of Mali. Students in the program receive free room and
board at a guest house at the University of Mali, plus a monthly stipend.
For more information, persons can contact the University of Maryland School
of Medicine at (410) 706-2491.
The new MRTC lab is a unique research facility that provides the proper
tools, resources and technology to scientists who can then carry out malaria
research in their native countries where the disease is endemic. NIAID's
continuing support for the MRTC underscores its commitment to the Mali
project and to improving global health.
NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID
conducts and supports research to understand basic immunology and to
prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases and immune-mediated
disorders, including HIV disease 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 http://www.niaid.nih.gov.