Terrie Taylor in Malawi

Research team awarded $9.1 million to battle malaria in Malawi

MSU News, Jul 8 2010

As part of a continued effort to eliminate the scourge of malaria in the southern African nation of Malawi, a Michigan State University-led research team will use a $9.1 million federal grant to create new prevention and control strategies in the small, landlocked country.

Terrie Taylor, an MSU University Distinguished Professor of internal medicine and an osteopathic physician, is leading the project, which aims to establish a self-sustained research entity capable of implementing and evaluating anti-malaria strategies. The research project is funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"Successful malaria prevention and elimination activities require sustained, effective and well-targeted interventions," said Taylor, who spends six months each year working at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. There she treats malaria patients - predominantly children - and conducts research on the disease that kills as many as one million children in sub-Saharan Africa every year.

Using new molecular and genomic tools in conjunction with established approaches, Taylor and her team will study patients, malaria parasites, the mosquitoes that infect people with the parasite, and the individuals who carry the parasite and infect mosquitoes but manifest no symptoms themselves. The work will be carried out in three ecologically varied locations in Malawi, representative of geographic regions across southern Africa.

"By identifying the contributions made by people, parasites and mosquitoes to the incidence and prevalence of malaria in diverse geographic settings, we will be able to tailor prevention and control strategies to specific seasons - dry and rainy - and locations - highland and lowland, urban and rural," she said.

Malaria is widespread in Malawi; between July 2006 and June 2007, nearly 4.4 million cases were reported in the country of about 13 million people. The highest burden is borne by children as they have not yet developed immunity to malaria parasites. MSU has been actively involved in malaria research in Malawi since 1985.

The research project, part of a newly established NIH network of International Centers of Excellence for Malaria Research, includes investigators from University of Maryland, University of Michigan, Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Malawi's College of Medicine. The proposal was developed with input from the National Malaria Control Programme, the relevant policy-making body in Malawi.

That coordination, Taylor said, will enable the team to translate "data into policy," ensuring research findings are brought to bear on policy development.

"Malawi, with its political will, track record in malaria research and ecological diversity, has the potential to be a site for transformative research on malaria control, prevention and elimination," she said.

Myriad other MSU researchers are taking part in the unprecedented project; among them are: Karl Seydel, leading the molecular and genomics work; Ned Walker working with entomological aspects; Jonathan Babbage of the Biomedical Research Informatics Core supporting data management and biostatistics; and Lynn Mande coordinating the finance management and administration. The collaborative project involves five MSU faculty members from the colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and Natural Science as well as MSU's Biomedical Research Informatics Core.

The NIH's new malaria network established 10 such centers of excellence worldwide, focusing on regions where malaria is epidemic. For more information, go to http://www.nih.gov/news/health/jul2010/niaid-08a.htm.

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