[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 17-Jun-2013
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Contact: Bart Bryant
wbb@k-state.edu
785-532-0183
Kansas State University

NIH fellowship helps researcher fight malaria, understand mosquito immunity

MANHATTAN, KAN. -- A Kansas State University research associate has received a prestigious fellowship to support his research on mosquitoes and ways to prevent the spread of malaria.

Bart Bryant, research associate in biology, has received the National Institutes of Health's National Research Service Award Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship, which provides $113,000 for two years. He is the seventh Kansas State University researcher to receive the award and is the only person on campus to currently hold such an award.

Bryant, a university doctoral graduate in biology, works in the laboratory of Kristin Michel, associate professor of biology. Research in the laboratory focuses on mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases, particularly malaria.

"Malaria is a problem throughout the world and we are trying to understand how it interacts with the mosquito and the mosquito's immunity," Bryant said. "The better we understand the immune response of the mosquito, the better we will be able to come up with novel methods to limit parasite development."

With the fellowship, Bryant is studying the cellular arm of the mosquito's immune system. He is researching hemocytes -- immune system cells -- and the role they play when a mosquito takes a bloodmeal. Female mosquitoes must take a bloodmeal to reproduce, and Bryant wants to understand how the bloodmeal affects cellular immunity.

"The mosquito has to take a bloodmeal to complete its life cycle, but at the same time, that is when it's going to be exposed to parasites," Bryant said.

The researchers are finding that when the mosquito takes a bloodmeal, the number of hemocytes increases as the immune system gets ready for any potential pathogens. By understanding how the immune system works, the researchers can eliminate parasites in mosquitoes and possibly find a cure for malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.

"If we find a cure for the mosquito, we might be able to find a cure for malaria," Michel said. "If we cure the mosquito, we cure us."

The researchers are conducting the research in the university's insectary and are using one of the university's microscope facilities supported by a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence award.

The fellowship includes both a research component and a mentoring and education component. Bryant will take online courses with Northwestern University to fulfill the education component. Michel and Michael Kanost, university distinguished professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, are co-mentors for the fellowship.

"The fellowship sets up Bart's academic career," Michel said. "It shows that he can bring in extramural funding and he can make a difference in the field."

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