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Mosquito Man - GSU professor invents device to help control spread of malaria
Georgia Southern associate professor of epidemiology Tom Kollars disects a mosquito in his lab on campus.
    When someone is doing some creative thinking, we often say they are thinking “outside of the box.” But in the case of Thomas Kollars, when he decided to try and reduce the incidence of malaria infections around the world, thinking outside of the box meant thinking inside the mosquito.
    Kollars is an associate professor of epidemiology and Director of the Biodefense and Infectious Disease Laboratory in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University. He studies how infectious diseases affect human populations and is particularly interested in undeserved populations. After 10 years of work, he has developed a new product called PROVECTOR, that attacks malaria in the mosquito before it can be spread to other individuals.
    “PROVECTOR is an environmentally friendly device that uses a sugar-like solution with a chemical in it that attracts the mosquitoes that can be infected with malaria,” said Kollars. “They sip the juice, ingest it and it kills the malaria and other pathogens inside the mosquito without killing it.”
    Kollars decided to focus his energies on malaria during his stint as a military officer stationed in Bangkok, Thailand. While he was working with malaria patients and children infected with dengue fever, he thought there had to be a way to come up with something to reduce the impact of mosquitoes on  suffering people. Currently one to three million people, mostly children, die each year from malaria.
    “If you’ve got the ability to do something, you ought to do it,” said Kollars. “My grandfather said, ‘Tom, you need to make this a better world.’ So, I’m determined to do that.”
     In layman’s terms, PROVECTOR cures the mosquito of its own malaria infection, attacking the malaria virus inside the mosquito without damaging the insect. It’s kind of an oral vaccine for the mosquito. Mosquitoes are not inherently carriers of malaria – it’s not in their genetic make-up. They are infected by biting an infected person and then spread the disease by biting someone else.
    By reducing the number of mosquitoes that carry the virus, Kollars hopes to reduce the incidences of malaria cases in humans, which in turn would further reduce the spread of malaria, since there would be fewer chances for mosquitoes to pick up the virus in the first place.
    Considering our own delightful experiences with mosquitoes here in South Georgia, why not just kill the mosquito?
    "Because of environmental damage. They're bird food, bat food and also very important for pollinating flowers," said Kollars. "In fact, that's what the males do. They don't bite, they just feed on pollen and nectar. So they actually transport pollen between flowers. They're very important in the environment."
    A little known fact is that mosquitoes feed off of sugar sources 10 times more often than blood sources, primarily feeding on blood meal before laying their eggs. As a result, Kollars designed PROVECTOR to look like a plastic flower with certain colors optimized to attract the mosquitoes. There is a sugar-like solution in the "flower" made of different types of sugars and other chemicals that also attract the mosquitoes.
    Kollars has had remarkable success in laboratory trials, reducing the infection rate from 60 percent to around two percent - a 96 percent reduction. Initial results are also showing that it prevents the mosquito from being infected again.
    "If we get it down below a certain threshold in a ecosystem, the chances of malaria continuing to be propagated in the human population is greatly decreased," said Kollars. "This is pretty exciting and it's cheap."
    He hopes to be in production within the year, selling an individual unit, which would last for three to six months, for less than $10. Refills would cost around $1. He also hopes to have a biodegradable unit which could be placed in the environment or dropped from planes. These prices would significantly improve the financial situation some of these underdeveloped countries face while fighting malaria, especially considering that current mosquito traps cost around $600.
    In Kenya, for example, the average family survives on around $360 per year. The real problem is that it currently costs around $110 a year for them to treat their family for malaria.
    "You can imagine what our economy would be like if we spent a third of all our money on just one disease," said Kollars. "In some of these countries, 97 percent of the people are at risk of malaria."
    Kollars is beginning his field trials soon and already has interest from the Dominican Republic, India, Pakistan, Uganda and Ghana. If those trials go well, he hopes to expand into other diseases, such as dengue fever, St. Louis encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis and the West Nile virus.
    Most of Kollar's work with the pathogens themselves was done before he came to the university.
    "We don’t work with pathogens at the university, I want to make that clear, we do that at a undisclosed location," said Kollars. "These are pathogens, so you don’t really talk about where that stuff gets done. You just never know in today’s world."

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