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Penn Vet Scientists Working To Stop Mosquito-Borne Diseases

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Scientists all around the world are working on ways to stop the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. One such research project is going on here in Philadelphia.

"10,000 mosquitoes every week are being held in this room," explained biologist Dr. Michael Povelones. "In this incubator here we have African malaria mosquitoes."

Dr. Povelones heads the Laboratory at Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine where he and his team of seven are researching the mosquitoes' immune system, the role it plays in fighting off diseases, and, perhaps one day, stopping the insect from spreading diseases to humans like malaria or the Zika virus.

"For a mosquito to transmit a disease, it actually has to become infected itself. And a mosquito has a pretty robust immune system that prevents itself from becoming infected but, sometimes it does, and those mosquitoes that become infected are capable of disease," said Dr. Povelones.

The research team has recently identified proteins in the mosquitoes that are basically the brakes for its immune system.

"We are really excited about these proteins because, when we remove it from the mosquitoes, we are basically removing the breaks from the immune system. The immune system is basically going full throttle on the parasites and basically making the mosquitoes less susceptible to these diseases and ultimately less able to transmit these diseases," Dr. Povelones said.

The next step in the project is to develop permanent modifications to build a stable population, and then think about ways to use it in field situations.

West Nile Virus is not being covered in this study.

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