The role of insect immune peptides in limiting disease transmission by vectors

Vector-borne diseases – diseases spread to humans by insect vectors – pose serious health problems worldwide. Malaria, transmitted by mosquitoes, kills 2-3 million people a year; Lymphatiic filariasis, transmitted by mosquitoes, afflicts more than 100 million people; African sleeping sickness, spread by tsetse flies, affects up to 500,000 people each year, most of whom die within two years of infection; Chagas Disease, transmitted by kissing bugs, is found only in the Americas and affects 30 million people and results in premature heart attacks. In North America, West Nile virus, spread by mosquitoes, has expanded to most regions. Insects have a potent immune system that kills most pathogens (disease-causing organisms). A major component of their immune response is the production of small proteins that kill many bacteria, viruses and parasites. Dr. Carl Lowenberger is studying these immune peptides to identify ways to reduce disease transmission to humans, and to determine if these antimicrobial peptides could be used to treat human infections. Many pathogens have developed resistance to antibiotics. Immune peptides isolated from insects in this research could provide a new source of antibiotics to overcome drug resistance.