Knowledge for a sustainable world

Noushin Emami, Joshua Muhumuza

NRI’s Dr. Noushin Emami has recently been awarded the Flormanska prize 2023 by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences (KVA). She was recognised "for using creativity and great breadth in approach to have identified chemical substances that affect the behaviour of mosquitoes and their ability to spread vector-borne parasites to humans".

noushinNoushin will receive a prize of 25,000 Swedish Krona. She was one of four researchers awarded by the KVA at its last meeting on 14 June 2023. The KVA awards the Flormanska prize annually in recognition of outstanding scientific efforts in medicine, mathematics, biology, nature conservation and astronomy.

Noushin, an associate professor of Infection Biology at NRI, is a molecular infection biologist with expertise in host-pathogen interactions and a particular interest in understanding the dynamics of malaria transmission. She has acquired significant knowledge across a broad spectrum of disciplines including medicine, medical entomology, tropical medicine public health and mathematics. She is also an expert in statistical modelling, programming and bioinformatics analyses. Her expertise on malaria includes doctoral training in malaria vector ecology, behaviour, and host-parasite interaction. Noushin has researched molecules produced by the malaria parasite that activate the immune response of the Anopheles mosquito. She has also uncovered the mechanism by which the malaria parasite improves its chances of transmission from its intermediate human host to the Anopheles mosquito.

In her past work, which led to the 2023 Flormanska award, she identified volatile molecules released from human red blood cells which make malaria infected people more attractive to mosquitoes than uninfected people. This work led to a vital breakthrough in malaria research. It determined a major weakness in the malaria parasite that may be exploited to develop attractants with improved trapping efficiency and thus disrupt malaria transmission. Attractants work by attracting and trapping the mosquitoes that spread malaria.

mosquitoNoushin and her team also recently discovered an aggregation pheromone for Anopheles mosquitoes. An aggregation pheromone is one of many excreted/secreted chemicals that cause members of a species to come into closer proximity. The team also developed a killer pink cocktail for mosquitoes, which consists of HMBPP—the volatile molecule released by malaria parasites into hosts’ blood and attracts mosquitoes to infected people—and beet juice! This clever beet-based bait is laced with pesticide to ensure that it kills mosquitoes which are attracted by HMBPP. Noushin and her team are exploring other natural alternative toxins to find one that only harms mosquitoes. The team is currently working on adapting the bait for commercial use while still being affordable especially in areas where malaria is endemic. This will be essential to boosting public health.

“I feel incredibly honoured to have received a prize from the Royal Academy of Science, an organization that is renowned for selecting Nobel Prize winners. This prestigious award has truly inspired me to continue pursuing my research with even greater enthusiasm and dedication”, Noushin noted. “I am committed to finding a solution that is both selective, affordable, effective, and eco-friendly for the control of vector-borne diseases”, she emphasised.

According to the World Health Organization, half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria with an estimated 247million cases, and 619,000 deaths recorded in 2021. Vector control is essential for malaria control and eradication strategies as it is highly effective in preventing infection and reducing disease transmission. Noushin’s work contributes to the goal of reversing the staggering statistics of malaria morbidity and mortality in affected communities.