Julie and Carlos Chaccour are two alumni who fell in love while at the School. Julie tells us how signing up for a randomised trial led to more than just a mosquito bite…
“I was doing my MSc in Immunology of Infectious Diseases and working on my thesis in Eleanor Riley‘s lab when Carlos (MSc Tropical Medicine & International Health ’08) recruited volunteers for his study (supervised by Jo Lines and Chris Witty and with plenty of support of the late Chris Curtis). He had come across some old data showing that ivermectin killed mosquitoes and decided to design a small randomised controlled trial.
I signed up, most of all because he convincingly explained to me how there were no effective tools in place to combat outdoor-biting mosquitoes, in some regions not a negligible part of the mosquito population, especially in Southeast Asia where resistance to antimalarials frequently arises. 25 eligible volunteers, all students from the School, had to be bitten twice by 22 mosquitoes each time. You guys were great! The second time I had to go for the feed, I had a busy day in the lab and forgot about the hour, so I arrived late in the insectary after the other volunteers had left already. Carlos and I ended up talking for an hour and from then on, met regularly for lunches in the park in front of the School.
The trial was successful: all mosquitoes died on their first day of feeding on the blood of ivermectin-treated volunteers. Very promising but unfortunately, the effect of ivermectin did not last long. But we will get to that in a moment.
After my planned PhD project with Eleanor did not get the desired funding, I decided to accompany Carlos to Venezuela to get some experience working on tropical diseases in a tropical country. I worked in the diagnostics of Chagas and schistosomiasis and got to know the beautiful rural areas and people of Venezuela, while he worked in the university hospital and an A&E. After some detours, we ended up in Spain, where Carlos is four years into the residency and I am working as freelance medical writer. We are expecting our third child in two months and are planning a research stay in Moshi, Tanzania, next year. Carlos gives a class on “cases from the bush” for the Diploma in Tropical Medicine & Hygiene and his MSc every year in Spring and the two of us certainly have very fond memories of the School.
All this time, we have been keeping the initial project alive despite difficulties. Right now, we are working on a long-lasting formulation of ivermectin that can keep mosquitocidal levels up for months. Finding the funding for the project proved challenging. With the help of family, friends and colleagues, we managed to raise €26,000 that paid for the prototype of the drug and the experimental setup. To cover the rest of the pre-clinical stage, we are resorting to crowdfunding through Indiegogo. Our more “artsy” friends have created some amazing videos explaining the idea. Another London School alumnus, Saverio Bellizzi (MSc Epidemiology ’08, and recently fighting the Ebola outbreak in Guinea), supported us with his wonderful photographs from his travels to places like Sudan, Niger or Vietnam. Click here if you are interested in more details of the campaign. Spread the word among your global health friends and maybe even leave a little contribution. A little goes a long way! And don’t forget to write to us on the comment section, we would love to hear your thoughts!”