Thesis 36 young scientists inspired me

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I recently had the opportunity to meet 36 extraordinary graduate students who are focusing their work on malaria. It was the second in a series of conversations we call Gates Notes Deep Dive – you can read about the first in this post—And I want to share why I was so inspired by them.

University students came from all over the world, including Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Africa, United States, Papua New Guinea, India, United Kingdom, China, Brazil, Australia and Peru. They covered disciplines ranging from molecular biology and bioinformatics to epidemiology and disease modeling.

It is amazing to see how much the malaria field has grown over the past two decades. We still need to get a lot more people involved, but we could never have convened a conversation with so many top students in so many hard-hit countries when I started working on malaria fifteen years ago.

Before we met, the students listened to four experts doing exciting work on malaria. Epidemiologist Corine Karema he talked about why it is so difficult to eradicate this disease and how we can accelerate progress towards eradication. Molecular geneticist Ifeyinwa Aniebo discussed the importance of genetic surveillance and the innovations he is working to introduce in his native Nigeria. Infectious Disease Researcher Fredros Okumu addressed the need for new tools that will transform the world’s malaria efforts. And leadership expert Sankara Gitau explored the impact of malaria on adolescent women and girls and the opportunity to promote equality by fighting the disease.

Then I got to meet the students. It was thrilling to hear their big questions and to feel inspired by their energy. I was fascinated by what they are concerned about and what they are optimistic about.

For example, we talked a lot about the funding, tools, strategies and data needed to drive eradication as fast as possible. I recognized that COVID-19 has been a giant setback for all work in the global health field. It has weakened the financial resources of rich countries, forcing them to think about the health needs in their own countries. It has also stopped supplying the products we need to fight malaria and other diseases.

I then shared my perspective on how we can make the most of this terrible situation. The pandemic has greatly accelerated the science of mRNA vaccines, which is very important to our work to develop more effective and longer-lasting malaria vaccines. Thirty years of research and development on a pediatric malaria vaccine are paving the way for these improved tools. That recently approved by WHO, which our foundation helped finance, is a first generation product and will need to be used in conjunction with other interventions. But it’s a major step forward in our goal of developing a highly effective elimination vaccine for all ages.

I shared with graduating students that the greatest COVID-related opportunity is to persuade donors to invest in the research and development, disease monitoring systems and training that we need to be much better prepared for the start of a future. pandemic. People who are working on pandemic prevention can keep their skills sharp while also working on the ongoing challenges of infectious diseases, such as polio and malaria. This is a win for all: it will end malaria sooner and ensure that the world has a core of experts ready to nip any potential pandemic in the bud.

The students also involved me in an interesting conversation about new technologies being applied to the fight against malaria. One of these is “gene drive, “A very sophisticated and powerful way to control mosquito populations that has been made possible by recent advances in genetic modification. And we discussed how the pandemic has made many more people aware of the need to expand global vaccine manufacturing capacity so that they can rapidly produce effective, new vaccines, in volumes that can meet the global need.

One area of ​​legitimate concern raised was the parasite’s growing resistance to artemisinin, the best antimalarial drug we currently have. Drug resistance first appeared in Asia. We now see signs of resistance in parts of Africa. Some of the foundation’s beneficiaries are developing very promising new drugs that we can eventually combine with artemisinin, but that line of drugs is about three years behind what I would have liked. I believe the alternative drugs will arrive in time, but it will be a closer call than we had hoped for.

I am grateful to the graduate students I have met, as well as to thousands of others around the world who are dedicating their careers to this difficult but vital challenge. Defeating this parasite will require heroic effort. But the intelligence and passion I saw in those students made me more optimistic than ever that we can do it.

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