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OWU Wins NIH Grant to Study Mosquitoes, Virus Transmission

April 23, 2001

DELAWARE, OHIO -- Ohio Wesleyan's science program has achieved recognition again through a substantial governmental grant won in the face of stiff competition.

OWU Assistant Professor of Zoology Marten Edwards received a $100,000 three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health for his research on mosquitoes' roles in the transmission of LaCrosse virus, the leading cause of pediatric viral encephalitis in the Midwest, by mosquitoes. Such NIH research grants as this attract applicants from top science programs in the nation.

"We are looking at the mechanism of how mosquitoes transmit diseases," said Edwards. "We are working on ways to stop the disease at the mosquito bite. It is a weak link in the cycle of disease transmission."

On a different grant, Edwards will travel this summer to the Czech Republic with OWU student Supriya Pai '03 to conduct research dealing with the molecular biology of how insects and ticks transmit diseases. They will leave in mid May to spend two months at the Institute of Parasitology at Ceske Budejovice. Located between Munich, Prague and Vienna, the Institute is one of the world's most renowned research centers, attracting scientists from across the globe.

Pai's work is supported by the OWU MacGregor Research Program. She is continuing the research of another OWU student, Priscilla McDowell '01, who has worked with Edwards. McDowell did her senior thesis on the research subject.

"I was looking at mosquito reproductive genes by developing a collection of a variety of different genes in the mosquito's ovary which are 'turned on' after a mosquito takes a blood meal," explained McDowell.

The Lacrosse virus is transmitted to mosquito eggs, which is how the virus survives when the mosquito is not active. One goal of the research is to find a way to prevent the virus from attaching to the ovary. As she hands over her part of the research to Pai, who plans to be a genetics counselor one day, McDowell, a microbiology and zoology major, is introducing her successor to the basic techniques involved in this project.

"I really enjoyed working on the project," said McDowell, adding that "you really go from something you can see in your daily life, like the mosquito, down to the molecular aspects of it."

Since 1963, more than 700 Ohioans have been infected with the Lacrosse virus, resulting in seven deaths. These include the death of a 13-year-old boy in Fairfield County in 1999.

Although while in the Czech Republic Edwards and Pai will work with sand flies and ticks instead of mosquitoes, the objective is similar. She will help him to isolate some of the genes involved in the transmission of leischmaniasis and Lyme Disease.

Edwards' research on ticks and sand flies is part of a program that promotes collaborations between American scientists and their counterparts in the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries.

"I find the program useful for both us and them," said Edwards. "The future of science depends on this type of exchange."