Dr. Vito Baraka

Principal Research Scientist, NIMR Tanga Medical Research Centre
Background: My research applies molecular genetics approaches to practical problems in infectious disease control. I have a strong interest in malaria chemoprevention strategies, disease epidemiology, and drug resistance surveillance (AMR). My current projects include the development of malaria chemoprevention strategies including Intermittent Presumptive Treatment in different target populations (IPTp, SMC, IPTc, etc.), tracking and mapping the spread of antimalarial drug resistance (artemisinin and partners drugs), using molecular/genomics tools to inform local and regional policy on malaria prevention, treatment, and elimination efforts.
EDCTP Career Development Fellowship:Title of the Project “Molecular markers of resistance to artemisinin and partner drugs (TMA2018CDF-2398). Dr. Vito Baraka uses high-throughput next-generation sequencing to determine genetic profiles of drug resistance and population structure of Plasmodium falciparum. The emergence and spread of Plasmodium falciparum resistance present major challenges for malaria control and elimination. Thus, molecular monitoring of drug resistance is considered important for the detection and tracking of drug-resistant parasites. The recent advancement in next-generation sequencing (NGS) facilitates cost-effective high-throughput detection of resistance and the origin of parasite populations with different genetic backgrounds. This is relevant for monitoring antimalarial drug resistance and tracking the geographic spread of parasite populations. Dr. Baraka will use NGS-based approaches to determine molecular markers of resistance to both artemisinin and partner drugs, parasite genetic diversity, and population structure in African settings. In addition, the study will also generate evidence on the ex vivo susceptibility of antimalarial drugs. Samples will be collected from the study site in Tanzania, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The detection of molecular markers of drug resistance will be carried out using a high-throughput NGS platform (Illumina®-based technology) for targeted amplicon sequencing. Following multiplexing PCR amplification of the targeted sequences and indexing, pooled gene fragments will be sequenced using the Illumina Miseq® platform. The study is expected to generate P. falciparum temporal genotyping data of molecular markers of resistance to artemisinin and resistance to partner drugs. The molecular evidence is critical to inform NMCPs, WHO, and others on the efficacy of ACTs as well as drugs used in chemoprevention strategies in the region. Data on the geographical origin and spread of parasite populations is crucial to signal the dispersal of artemisinin-resistant strains to African settings.