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The two young researchers Lorenz Hofer and Mgeni Tambwe are trying to block

malaria transmission in Tanzania. For this, the R. Geigy Foundation awards them

the 12th R. Geigy Prize 2022.

Mgeni Tambwe knows what it means to be sick with malaria. Even as a young boy growing up in Tanzania, he and his siblings were repeatedly put out of action by the disease. According to his recollection, they almost spent more time in bed than in school. Times have gone by! Today, Mgeni Tambwe sits in the modern laboratories of the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) in Bagamoyo, on the coast of the Indian Ocean, brimming with health and confidence. Together with Lorenz Hofer, a microbiologist at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), he has set up a modern research laboratory in recent years.

Malaria Transmission Research in Bagamoyo

The presence of a bio-safety level-II insectary lab including a cell-culture platform for malaria parasites facilitates scientific research for the evaluation of malaria transmissionblocking interventions. “This new research platform allows us to better understand malaria transmission and perhaps even interrupt it in the future,” says Lorenz Hofer. The significance of this statement could easily be lost if the epidemiological situation is not kept in mind. In recent years, science has celebrated great successes in the fight against malaria. In particular, insecticide-treated mosquito nets contributed to a reduction in malaria cases. “But if we want to stick to the goal of eliminating malaria, we need new innovative techniques,” Hofer says. Such as transmission-blocking drugs for instance which prevent the parasite to be transmitted to the mosquito. The main players in this process are so-called gametocytes. This is what scientists call the stage of the malaria parasite that the mosquito ingests during a bloodmeal and later might be transmitted to other human victims. Primaquine is currently the only drug that is effective against these gametocytes. But taking it can have serious side effects in some individuals. Thus, alternatives that are safer to the entire community are badly needed. Lorenz Hofer and Mgeni Tambwe succeeded in infecting mosquitoes with gametocytes under laboratory conditions. “This will provide a unique platform in the future to test the effect of new substances against gametocytes and to develop new drugs,” says Mgeni Tambwe.

Long breath

Even the Covid-19 pandemic which induced a global health crisis could not stop the efforts of Mgeni Tambwe, Lorenz Hofer and their entire team. In accordance with the national guidelines in Tanzania, they implemented the needed precautions to continue their work in the field. “Throughout my career, I have never experienced such a fruitful collaboration between two young researchers,” says Sarah Moore, Lorenz Hofer and Mgeni Tambwe’s supervisor. The partnership on an equal footing is certainly a key to their success. And it gives hope that future generations may be able to grow up without malaria, as was the case with Mgeni Tambwe.

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