Travis van Warmerdam (ScM student, MMI)
My research interests are focused on the fitness outcomes of the Anopheles mosquito in the context of mosquito-based malaria transmission-blocking strategies. I am currently involved in a study determining whether antibodies targeting ligands on the mosquito midgut surface have any impact on fitness. Antibodies directed to AnAPN1 have the potential to block the infection of Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of malaria, in the mosquito by interfering with the traversal of ookinetes through the midgut. This would prevent subsequent development of sporozoites, the infectious stage of the parasite, and would halt transmission of the disease to human hosts. Vaccines which elicit the production of these antibodies, or transmission-blocking vaccines (TBV), are a potential strategy to completely eradicate malaria. Before these vaccines can be implemented in the field, it is essential to study the impact the antibodies ingested by the mosquito have on their fitness. Through determining that the antibody has no impact on fitness we can be eliminate the potential for fluctuations in the dynamics of natural mosquito populations, and ensure that the antibodies will not undermine the ultimate goal of the vaccine.
I am also working towards the development of a high-throughput qPCR method, which can be used to rapidly determine P. falciparum oocyst infection intensities in mosquitoes. Current methods require 8 days before the number of oocysts can be determined through dissection of the mosquito midgut. Our lab hopes to cut this time in half (if not more), which would allow for the testing of the efficiency of potential transmission-blocking biologics in a more rapid fashion. I am currently planning a trip to Cameroon to collect samples of naturally infected mosquito populations as a means of validating this novel assay. Together, my efforts in the Dinglasan lab will help us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how transmission-blocking compounds function and how their introduction can be successfully implemented in the field.