African scientist wins Royal Society Pfizer Award for malaria research

04 November 2013

A scientist from Burkina Faso who is working on new tools to target mosquito swarms responsible for the spread of malaria has been awarded the Royal Society Pfizer Award for 2013.

Dr Abdoulaye Diabate, who is investigating the mating systems of Anopheles gambiae, will receive £60,000 towards a study which aims to cut the mosquito’s high reproductive rate and thereby control the spread of malaria.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) malaria caused an estimated 660 000 deaths (with an uncertainty range of 490 000 to 836 000) in 2010, mostly among African children. Current malaria control strategies have cut down the malaria burden in many endemic areas however the emergence and rapid spreading of insecticide and drugresistanceundermine such efforts. There is growing concern that malaria eradication will not be achieved without the introduction of new control tools.

Dr Diabate and his team have pioneered studies on mosquito mating systems and to date their results have provided fresh insights into the mechanisms of mating between subpopulations of Anopheles gambiae. Notably they have shown that swarms of Anopheles gambiae use distinctive landmarks to gather and mate, returning to the same sites over time. This inherent biological trait makes the mosquitoes vulnerable and offers an entry point not only to target them but also to estimate accurately several key parameters that are involved in malaria transmission.

The new study, funded by the Royal Society Pfizer Award, will allow Dr Diabate to gather results on male mating behaviour that will be instrumental to the implementation of a full range of new malaria control tools/technologies, for example, engineered mosquitoes and sterile insect techniques which rely on a good understanding of male biology.

Commenting on his prize and how it will help further research, Dr Abdoulaye Diabate said:

"The Royal Society Pfizer Award is such a wonderful and motivating award for African scientists. Not only does the prize boost high quality research in Africa by empowering the African research institutes but in my specific case it will also allow me to acquire the skills and knowledge that can help us win the battle against malaria.”

Sir Brian Greenwood CBE FRS FMedSci, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was on the selection committee for the award, said:

“Insecticide treated bednets have played a major role in recent successes in malaria control  but their effectiveness is being challenged by the emergence of resistance to the pyrethroid insecticides used in their manufacture, and alternative  approaches to the control of malaria vector mosquitoes are needed. Development of these novel approaches necessitates learning more about the behaviour of these mosquitoes.

“Dr Diabate is being deservedly honoured today, through the award of the Royal Society Pfizer Award, not only for his past research on mechanisms of resistance to pyrethroid insecticides but also for his more recent, highly innovative work on the behaviour of the major malaria vector species Anopheles gambiae, research which may one day lead to a new approach to the control of mosquitoes that transmit malaria.”

Professor Hilary Ranson, of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who nominated Dr Diabate for the award, said:

“Dr Diabate is an exceptionally talented and creative vector biologist who is a thoroughly deserving recipient of the Royal Society Pfizer Award.   His pioneering work on mosquito mating behaviour is opening up exciting new possibilities for controlling malaria and I am delighted that he now has the opportunity to pilot some of these ideas via the Pfizer Award.”

Professor Martyn Poliakoff FRS, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, said:

“Dr Abdoulaye’s work has the potential to make a significant impact on controlling the spread of malaria, especially in Africa. He is exactly the sort of scientist that the Royal Society Pfizer Award was set up to support. African scientists are at the heart of solving many of the challenges that face the continent. We hope through its aim of expanding research capacity, this Award will continue to boost the careers of its winners and improve the lives of the people their research strives to help.”

Dr Emma Andrews, Director of External Medical Affairs at Pfizer, added:

“Dr Diabate’s groundbreaking research brings us one step closer to winning the fight against malaria. His commitment and dedication to finding new ways to reduce the burden of this deadly disease exemplify the type of science capacity building that Pfizer is committed to advancing in Africa.”

Dr Diabate is the head of the medical entomology laboratory of the Institut de Recherche en Science de la Santé/Centre Muraz, Burkina Faso. He received his Master’s degree at the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and did his PhD on insecticide resistance at the University of Montpellier, France.

The Royal Society Pfizer Award is designed to reward scientists, based in Africa, at the outset of their career and to promote science capacity building in the developing world. It is awarded annually. The award, first made in 2006, recognises research scientists making innovative contributions to the biological sciences, including basic medical science.

The award grant as well as a £5,000 personal prize to Dr Diabate will be presented at a ceremony this evening at the Royal Society in London.