On April 11, the chairs, co-chairs and rapporteurs from the six panels of ‘malERA Refresh’ met to share the main challenges and exciting research opportunities identified in their different thematic panels.
During the day, the experts pointed out that there are still gaps in our knowledge regarding vector survival throughout the dry season and how dormant parasites impact on malaria transmission. Although knowledge on P. vivax, one of the parasites causing human malaria, has dramatically increased, some bottlenecks remain before we have the tools to tackle it, including access to different stages of the parasite for laboratory experiments. The group also noted that interventions which prevent malaria-transmitting mosquitoes from biting humans have a huge impact in reducing malaria transmission. Therefore, in the face of vector resistance to current insecticides, there is an urgent need for new modalities.
They also acknowledged the diagnostic and detection challenges associated with increasingly lower levels of malaria until you reach zero infections. New diagnostic tools, which are capable of measuring low parasite levels with a high degree of specificity, are needed. Also needed are novel metrics to measure the efficacy of new drugs and vaccines in reducing malaria transmission.
The participants concluded that the new ‘malERA Refresh’ research agenda needs to encourage scientific curiosity and exploration. Experts from other fields need to be inspired to think about problem solving in malaria. There are more possibilities now than in 2011 when the research agenda was first published, and new gene editing technologies such as CRISPR can help unlock the secrets of both parasite and vector genomes.
The six malERA Refresh Panels are now refining their papers with the aim of submitting them for publication in an open access journal this year.
On malERA Refresh:
Last year, the Malaria Eradication Scientific Alliance (MESA) launched a consultative process with the community to evaluate the scientific progress achieved and update the malaria eradication research agenda (malERA Refresh). The initiative is led by Regina Rabinovich (ISGlobal/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Dyann Wirth (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Marcel Tanner (Swiss TPH) and Pedro Alonso (WHO GMP) and has six panels composed of 150 worldwide experts from academia, industry, endemic countries, WHO and funding organisations.