Olympics Underscore Need for New Insecticides to Curb Zika

Posted: Updated:
The research has uncovered a chemical variation of an insecticide—currently used to control ticks in cattle—that can kill mosquitos. The research has uncovered a chemical variation of an insecticide—currently used to control ticks in cattle—that can kill mosquitos.

With the 2016 Summer Olympics just days away in Rio de Janeiro, the Zika virus outbreak has captured headlines and emphasized the importance of finding new strategies to battle mosquito-borne diseases. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame say targeting mosquitos is the best way to wage war on the Zika virus. A recent grant from the Department of Defense is funding the Notre Dame scientists as they search for better solutions that could reach far beyond the Olympics.

“Zika is certainly concerning, but it will likely be like the West Nile virus that has waves of infection throughout the world,” says co-principal investigator and Notre Dame Biological Sciences Associate Professor Dr. Mary Ann McDowell. “Emerging diseases like Zika are definitely a problem, and they keep re-emerging or rising, so the control of mosquitos is important, whether it be Zika, dengue fever, malaria or yellow fever.”

Because Zika virus infection in a pregnant woman can cause serious birth defects, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising pregnant women not to go to the Olympics and for all Rio travelers to “practice enhanced precautions.” New data from Notre Dame’s Eck Institute for Global Health projects that as many as 93 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean are at risk of infection over the next two to three years.

“Mosquitos are the emphasis—if we can reduce the population of mosquitos, you significantly reduce the disease,” says Dr. Zain Syed, a Notre Dame biological sciences assistant professor and co-principal investigator.

The recent $418,000 grant is a follow-up to an earlier $3 million grant that helped the researchers screen for new insecticides. Through collaboration with the Eck Institute, McDowell and Syed will use the latest dose of funding to further investigate a compound they identified that’s showing promise. McDowell says their research has uncovered a chemical variation of an insecticide—currently used to control ticks in cattle—that can kill mosquitos.

“Our hope would be, eventually, that we could make designer insecticides that maybe just target mosquitos and not other [beneficial] insects, like honeybees,” says McDowell. “That’s very difficult to do, but if you can accomplish that, then you might be able to stop some of the rise in insecticide resistance due to using pesticides for agricultural purposes.”

The team’s recent studies have shown the compound does, in fact, kill resistant mosquitos. The scientists say the university’s Warren Family Research Center for Drug Discovery and Development is streamlining their work. The center is now able to make compounds that McDowell previously had to order—sometimes from overseas.

“That’s a great step forward for us here at Notre Dame—to have that synthesis capability in-house,” says McDowell. “That’s what centers and universities are for: bringing different people together with different expertise to move something forward. The system is working. That’s good.”

For example, Syed’s expertise include mosquito behavior, and his lab has uncovered that the compound impacts mosquitos’ behavior in an important way.

“If, somehow, we can block the sense of smell in mosquitos, then they might not be able to find humans [to bite],” says Syed.

The overall goal of the Department of Defense grant is to develop insecticides that could protect military personnel in less-developed countries where mosquito-borne diseases are a significant threat. The researchers say, more broadly, such discoveries could impact global health.

“I’m excited about the possibilities of finding something that could help mankind in some way,” says McDowell. “I think that’s what drives all of us, especially at Eck—to be a service to society.” 

McDowell says the Zika virus outbreak has impacted federal funding agencies.
McDowell says the Warren Center’s ability to produce compounds for testing streamlines her research.
Syed says the collaboration for the project is “quite exciting.”
  • Perspectives

    • Ball Cap, Bottle Cap... Market Cap?

      What size is your market cap? Prudent investors know that company size is an important factor when building a portfolio. Large established companies tend to be more stable and predictable, while small companies with unproven potential can be risky investments. Is your market cap a good fit for you? Confused about market cap? Here's what you need to know...

    More

Events



  • Most Popular Stories

    • Millions Heading to Hoosier Airports For Improvements

      Nearly three dozen Indiana airports have received funding through a federal program. The grants from the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program can be used for work including taxiway and runway improvements, snow removal equipment and terminal building construction. The amount distributed nationwide in the most recent rounds of funding totals $541.5 million. The list of Hoosier facilities securing funding includes...

    • GE Wraps-up Fort Wayne Campus Sale

      The $5.5 million sale by General Electric of its former Fort Wayne campus is complete. The Journal Gazette reports RTM Ventures, the redevelopment group made up of partners from Baltimore, Indianapolis and Decatur, could begin remediation efforts by year's end. Plans for the more than 30-acre campus include some $300 million in development funded through public and private investment.

    • WATCH: 'Can Do' Attitude Fuels Jasper

      When asked what's behind more than $215 million in economic development projects, Mayor Terry Seitz didn't hesitate. "If you want something done, have someone from Jasper on your board or in your group, and it'll get done," said Seitz during an interview on Inside INdiana Business Television. Next month, ground will be broken for an 80-room Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites Hotel, part of the $30 million River Centre mixed-use project along the Patoka River.

    • Colts Hire Campbell as VP of Communications

      The Indianapolis Colts have hired Steve Campbell as vice president of communications. He has more than 25 years of experience working at all levels of media, community programming and public service. Campbell currently is president of Campbell Strategies LLC, a local communications and strategy firm providing media counsel to business, nonprofit and public sector clients. He founded the firm in 2009.

    • Barnes & Thornburg Names Merkel COO

      Barnes & Thornburg LLP has named Steven Merkel chief operating officer. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel who joins the firm after serving as chief of operations for the United States Military Academy. Earlier operational roles held by Merkel include brigade commander at the U.S. Military Academy; chief of operations for a multinational security force in Kabul, Afghanistan and chief of operations for the U.S First Army.