The right people in the room for World Malaria Day

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UC Berkeley hosted Zagaya’s third Bay Area World Malaria Day Symposium on April 25th.  All the west coast powerhouses of malaria research were in attendance along with key contributors from across the US. Attendees and presentations spanned discovery research, industrial therapeutics production, public health, and more. The efficiency and effectiveness of the meeting was unbelievable and it was absolutely a day of putting the right people in the room.

The three talk sessions, broken down into research, technology, and implementation, consisted of a brief keynote and a few five-minute talks followed by a panel Q&A with the speakers. A Nerf dart gun enforced the five-minute limit for everyone: Joe DeRisiAdam Renslo, postdocs, and students. This egalitarian approach created a casual atmosphere of approachability. Plus, watching the poor student moderators grapple with the possibility of career suicide at enforcing the rules added a little human drama to the day.

In the area of drug development, Andrew Horitz’s talk on Amyris’s ability to produce artemisinin in yeast, an important advance for more affordable drug production, was met with high interest from the audience. In a related talk, Agnes Nabasirye spoke on JLM, International’s work with PATH to manage the overuse of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) and, “Improve malaria delivery systems,” through rapid diagnostic tests in high transmission areas.

In a novel twist on diagnostics, the malaria world is turning to mobile apps and gaming to crowdsource sample screening. Aydogan Ozcan’s group at UCLA have developed both an Android app and a web-based game in which users screen images of blood smears to determine if they are positive or negative for malaria. He offered a prize to any attendee who could beat the top score by the end of the conference; if anyone succeeded is unclear but many were trying. A word of caution, it can be addictive!

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                    Gaming diagnostics: identify malaria infected cells

Another tech-focused presentation came from Johnny Gannon on M@RS, the Mosquito Awareness Reckoning System, and the winner of the first Diagnostics by Design: a Hack Day for Global Health. The core of M@RS is its mPod, which attracts and kills mosquitos. Gannon, a Berkeley MBA student, sought advice on improving the research utility of M@RS as well as on commercialization possibilities. He showed impressive composure and humor when inundated with questions and comments from a room full of scientists, all excited by this new tool. 

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                              The mPod for M@RS

A research symposium is never complete without someone sharing their story of self-experimentation. The favorite of the day came from Genevieve Tauxe of UC Riverside who collected and analyzed her own “trail funk” to refine the methods necessary to research controlling mosquito behavior with odorants.

The day ended with a sobering reminder of what brought everyone together: the goal to alleviate suffering across the globe for the benefit of all. We were reminded of the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals, include malaria eradication, and the international movement to achieve these goals. Perhaps before the end of the millennium there will no longer be a need for a World Malaria Day Symposium.

(Visit the new Malaria.com for more on research and trends in diagnostics.)

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