In an effort to build the capacity of lab technicians and entomologists working on malaria research in Africa, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) supported a five-day workshop in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Led by 11 scientists and attended by 12 researchers, the workshop aimed to train researchers on direct membrane-feeding assays to assess the efficacy of malaria transmission control interventions.Participants from The Gambia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mali, and Cameroon attended lectures and laboratory sessions on mosquito rearing, membrane feeding, mosquito dissection, and oocyst detection through microscopy and immunological methods. To further strengthen the technicians' research skills, trainers also provided instruction on data collection, analysis, and report writing. Scientists from Radboud University Nijmegen, Organisation de Coordination pour la lutte contre les Endémies en Afrique Centrale (OCEAC), Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), and the United States Food and Drug Administration provided instruction for the attendees. The workshop was hosted and organized by IRD and OCEAC.
Two MVI scientists, Emily Locke, PhD, MPH, and Diadier Diallo, PhD, MSc—both working to identify and validate assays that are predictive of protection in the field—traveled to Cameroon to help facilitate the workshop. Acknowledging the importance of reducing assay variability in the field by improving quality control systems, Diallo stated, "I think there are still issues with how people read or identify oocysts by microscopy. It was very important to train them in how to dissect the mosquito, pull out and stain the midgut, and look for the presence of oocysts by microscopy." In addition to microscopy—the gold standard in the field—technicians also practiced slot blot and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
To further refine and standardize the way assays are performed, plans for follow-on meetings are in the works. Locke, echoing the favorable feedback facilitators received at the workshop's end said, "Right now there's a lot of enthusiasm with this group. They want to continue learning and improving their skills. We don't want too much time to elapse before we conduct some follow-on activities." One potential idea is to involve the group in conducting assays in support of future clinical trials, which would allow researchers to determine the extent to which data across different sites are comparable.
In the meantime, workshop organizers developed an informal communication channel that has allowed participants to collaborate with each other upon return to their respective institutions. The mechanism, a malaria feeding assays Facebook page, was designed as an easy-to-use social media tool to provide a platform for technicians to consult with each other when facing questions about a specimen. For example, if a researcher is questioning a slide they are reviewing, they can upload an image from their microscope and share it with the group. Members then leave comments as to whether they believe the picture is actually an oocyst or some debris.