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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

January 8, 2017 by Kat Kelley

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma are looking for the next breakthrough drug in an unusual place: roadkill. Every animal hosts a unique microbiome—a community of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and molecules with antibacterial and antifungal properties. The research team is collecting swabs from dead animals found along a state highway and has already discovered two compounds (taken from an opossum’s ear) that could prevent the spread of yeast infections.

Hypothermia is a significant driver of morbidity and mortality among babies born prematurely, even though the condition is easy to detect and treat. Detection relies on temperature monitoring, and current standard of treatment is Kangaroo Mother Care (skin-to-skin contact). Now, an electronic alert bracelet is being used to prevent hypothermia among preemies in India. If the infant is healthy, the bracelet flashes a blue light every ten seconds; if the infant’s temperature drops, the light turns to red and an alarm goes off. The single-use device is safe and can be used for a month straight—even at home.

Though a daily dose of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can prevent HIV infection, stigma, cost, and frequent stockouts can impede adherence to the regimen. While only four doses per week is sufficient to protect men from infection, if women miss a single daily dose, they risk infection. To mitigate these barriers, researchers at Intarcia Therapeutics Inc. are developing an implant that would release PrEP over time, meaning just one visit to the doctor’s office would protect patients for an entire year. The device has already undergone advanced testing and is currently under review by the US Food and Drug Administration for the delivery of diabetes drugs.

Researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR) in Seattle are using mosquitoes, rather than syringes, to deliver an experimental malaria vaccine. The vaccine uses live, but weakened malaria parasites, which can only grow inside living mosquitoes. In an initial trial, ten volunteers were vaccinated, none of whom developed malaria and all of whom produced antibodies that could confer immunity against malaria. The antibodies were extracted from volunteers and successfully used to protect mice against malaria, however, additional trials are needed to determine their efficacy in humans. CIDR is partnering with the Maryland-based biotech company Sanaria to develop a more standard and sustainable vaccine delivery system, producing the weakened parasites and extracting them from the mosquitoes, and attempting to grow the parasites outside of the mosquitoes.

About the author

Kat KelleyGHTC

Kat Kelly is a senior program assistant at GHTC who supports GHTC's communications and member engagement activities.