An interview with last year’s BMJ Global Health Grant winner, Dr. Dickson Lwetoijera

 

As we prepare to announce the recipient of the 2020 BMJ Global Health Grant, we went back to 2019’s winner and asked him what receiving the grant meant to him and his research career.

Dickson Wilson Lwetoijera is Chief Research Scientist at Ifakara Health Institute (IHI), Ifakara, Tanzania; Professor at Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST), Arusha, Tanzania; and a Wellcome Trust International Intermediate Fellow (2020-2024). Dr Lwetoijera graduated with a PhD in Medical Entomology from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK, in 2016.

His research interest focuses on alternative vector control tools with the potential to target mosquitoes outdoors. Specifically, he focuses on auto-dissemination, mosquito-assisted larviciding and genetic-based technologies for mosquito control.

Q: Could you tell us something about yourself and your research?

As part of my five years (2018-2023) personal development plan, I aim to become an independent scientist by consolidating my research on alternative vector control tools with the potential to target mosquitoes outdoors. My research particularly focuses on mosquito-assisted larviciding, commonly known as autodissemination, and genetic-based technologies such as gene-drive for mosquito control.

Furthermore, I aspire to establish a local and international collaboration network around these research themes to catalyze the generation of data-driven solutions, build local research capacity and support its integration into national vector control efforts. Also, I plan to consolidate my supervision and mentorship skills by supervising a number of MSc and PhD students.

In my 13 years of my research experience, I have made notable contributions to my area of research, some of which include:

  • For the first time, in 2014, I demonstrated that pyriproxyfen, can be efficiently transferred by malaria mosquitoes, Anopheles arabiensis, from dispensing stations to their aquatic habitats, with dramatic reductions (>75%) in the emergence of subsequent mosquito progeny from those habitats.
  • In the same year, I also demonstrated that pyriproxyfen effectively sterilizes adult malaria vectors, Anopheles arabiensis, and drastically reduces their reproductive rates by >95%.
  • In a follow-up study (2015-2016), I demonstrated that pyriproxyfen-treated clay pots can suppress a stable population of Anopheles arabiensis under semi-controlled settings. I am enthusiastic to see now this technology being fully developed and scaled up.
  • Between 2008-2015, I managed the longitudinal mosquito surveillance in Kilombero Valley, a period during which we demonstrated the significant contribution of bednets on malaria transmission, by showing 18-fold reductions in transmission and significant decline of gambiae s.s. to an undetectable level.

Q: Why did you undertake this research?

I chose this area of research because it offers an opportunity to create new and innovative tools to control mosquitoes outside human dwelling, at their breeding habitats. Hence, addressing the unmet need for controlling outdoor malaria transmission.

Q: What were the main benefits of winning the grant?

Attending the ECTMIH conference [11th European Congress on Tropical Medicine & Health, Liverpool, UK, September 2019], thanks to BMJ Global Health’s grant, allowed me to learn a lot and have discussions with potential funders. However, the most significant benefit for me was that I had the opportunity to pitch in front of an audience of experts, and in that way rehearse for my Wellcome Trust Intermediate fellowship interview, which took place in November 2019. During my pitch at the conference, I received constructive feedback and questions that helped shape my responses and confidence during my Wellcome Trust interview.

Q: How did this opportunity contribute to your research?

This opportunity significantly contributed to me winning the Wellcome Trust Intermediate fellowship, that will run from 2020 -2024. During my fellowship, I aim to consolidate the research findings initially generated in a controlled semi-field setting.

 

We are very grateful to Dr Lwetoijera for taking time to answer our questions.

Interested in finding out more about the grant? Visit BMJ Global Health’s grant page: https://gh.bmj.com/pages/bmj-global-health-grant/

Please note that the window for applications in 2020 is now closed; applications for the 2021 grant will open shortly – watch out for announcements on the journal homepage and social media.

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