The Entomology Laboratory puts the unit at a strategic position to attract new research funding and collaborations to conduct clinical trials of novel interventions against malaria and other vector-borne diseases.
The capacity for Entomology work was identified as a key resource for research on vector-borne diseases particularly malaria, during the implementation of the new MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM business model in 2009 and was retained within the MDEE (malaria diagnostics entomology and epidemiology) platform. The facility will support laboratory work on controlled human malaria infection (CHMI) studies, and puts the Unit at a strategic position to attract new research collaborations and grants for clinical trials of novel interventions particularly sporozoite vaccines for malaria control and eventual elimination. The laboratory also provides the Unit the capability to engage and collaborate on other vector-borne and emerging infectious diseases such as Zika.
The new laboratory is a secure facility divided into three sections, a room for conducting the direct membrane feeding assays (DFMA), another for holding uninfected adult mosquitoes and a third for rearing mosquitoes. The Insectary, a key component of the Entomology Laboratory was inaugurated in 2018 and named after a retired entomology staff, Ida Secka. Ida started working for MRC Unit The Gambia at LSHTM in 1974 as a field worker in Keneba within the Nutrition Theme. In 1975, she moved to Fajara to start the first insectary breeding of mosquitoes and managed the insectary from 1975 to 1982 before joining the Rotavirus project team. Ida joined the malaria programme from 1986 to 2009 running the insectaries in Farafenni, Pakaliba and Walikunda before her retirement in 2013.
The clinical development of anti-malarial drugs and vaccines increasingly relies on controlled human malaria infection to provide reliable readout of efficacy. This requires continuous production of mosquitoes in a thriving colony which the insectary at Fajara will provide. Coupled with the increasing expertise of staff employed in the Entomology Laboratory the Unit is poised to play a bigger role in this increasing area of research.