LSTM Seminar Series: Tales of an itinerant entomologist

News article 15 Sep 2016

LSTM’s new seminar series has begun, with the first speaker of this academic year LSTM’s Director, Professor Janet Hemingway. Introduced by Professor Giancarlo Biagini, Janet delivered a presentation entitled: Tales of an itinerant entomologist to an audience made up of LSTM staff and students as well as and those who followed the seminar via our livestream.

Professor Hemingway talked through her extensive career and how her interest in mosquitoes had led to work on a PhD defining insecticide resistance mechanisms in Anopheles and Culex species during the early 1980s, in the days before the advent of molecular techniques. Her studies resulted in an opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka to carry out field evaluation of resistance and its management around mosquito breeding sites to determine if resistance developed as a result of using public health or agricultural insecticides.

Following this she worked in Africa establishing the onchocerciasis control programme, which looked at using different insecticides in rotation to target its vector the black fly and to limit insecticide resistance development. Coming into contact with people suffering from vector borne diseases and those individuals trying to help them, made her determined to develop tools that would be  more accessible and effective in the field including the development of biochemical assays for resistance monitoring.

After moving to Cardiff, Professor Hemingway began to work on the molecular basis of resistance, using gene amplification techniques and formed spin-off companies to foster the advancement of new insecticide products to counteract the decline in the rate of insecticide development.  At this time, there had been no new public health insecticides developed since pyrethroids in the 1970s.

This interest in industry continued after moving to LSTM, where Professor Hemingway secured $50 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to start up the product development partnership Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC), in order to stimulate interest in the public health sector from the agrochemical industry. 11 years on IVCC has received funding for a further five years, has three new chemical compounds under development and has produced a number of different products that can be used to test and monitor insecticide use and effectiveness.

The challenges continue and she is currently involved in the monitoring and development of new tools to control the sandfly vector of Visceral Leishmaniasis, as well as a major trial of dual insecticide treated bednets in Uganda.

Professor Hemingway concluded her talk by returning to Sri Lanka, which earlier this month became the third and most populous country in Asia to be declared malaria-free by the WHO, due in no small part to her work and that of the Sri Lankan entomologists she has trained throughout her long and remarkable career.