Genetic Approaches to Malaria Surveillance and Elimination in China

Conquering Malaria in China: Tracking the Genetic Zip Code

The World Health Organization has identified 21 countries with the potential to achieve malaria eradication within the next two years. By exploiting technological advances such as DNA sequencing and advanced genomic-based tools, China is poised to achieve malaria-free status by 2020.

Project Title

Genetic Approaches to Malaria Surveillance and Elimination in China

The first malaria genome was sequenced in 2002 and yielded a dramatic scale-up of new genetic and genomic tools for scientists to learn more about malaria parasites, their mosquito vectors, and the human host. Data-driven approaches have enhanced the potential for decision-makers to monitor the effectiveness of tools in the field and make real-world impact on health policy to achieve malaria eradication.

Project Summary

Long-term scientific investments from private and public sector partners—including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the ExxonMobile Foundation, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and the National Institutes of Health—have significantly advanced the work of researchers at Harvard University, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Broad Institute in developing novel technologies to better understand the genetics of the parasites responsible for malaria. These researchers’ collaboration into the origins of malaria parasites translates to the real-world context of malaria elimination.

Transferring this knowledge to China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the country’s leading public health agency, through training and capacity building will be a catalyst for evidence-based decision-making around malaria policy in China. China has been strikingly effective in its efforts toward malaria elimination—in fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated China as a country on track to achieve malaria-free status in the next two years. However, to meet the WHO’s E2020 Initiative, the CDC must demonstrate zero indigenous cases of malaria.

To help the Chinese CDC meet this challenge, this project will employ technology transfer, data analysis, and training approaches to enable Chinese scientists to apply genetic-based technologies to classic disease surveillance efforts. The ultimate goal of this work is to inform improved decision-making to achieve malaria eradication. Using a novel approach developed by scientists at Harvard and the Broad Institute, we will characterize parasites isolated from patients in China to a “zip code” of origin for each parasite. By exploiting the parasite’s genetic material, researchers will be able to track a parasite—or its “zip code”—to determine its geographic origins, including insights on indigenous parasites circulating within the country or parasites imported from other malaria-endemic countries.

These tools will allow China to track the final infections of malaria and achieve malaria-free status by 2020, and they will offer a road map for other countries having a similar goal of malaria elimination and eradication.

Partner Affiliations in China

National Institute of Parasitic Diseases, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Principal Investigators

  • DW

    Dyann F. Wirth

    Richard Pearson Strong Professor of Infectious Diseases, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

  • Buckee

    Caroline Buckee

    Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

  • JC

    Junhu Chen

    Professor and Chief, Key Laboratory of Parasite and Vector Biology, National Institute of Parasitic Diseases, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention

  • RD

    Rachel Daniels

    Research Scientist in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

  • DH

    Daniel Hartl

    Higgins Professor of Biology, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

  • DH

    Daniel Neafsey

    Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

  • w

    Chi-Man “Winnie” Yip

    Professor of the Practice of International Health Policy and Economics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health