Over 100 species of Plasmodium exist and infect various reptiles, birds, and mammals.
As a graduate student I was thrilled to study one out of the four human malaria parasites, Plasmodium falciparum. I learned about its complex life cycle and how these single celled animals hijack both mosquitos and animals.
When female mosquitos take a blood meal, parasites are introduced into the bloodstream and travel to the liver where they multiply. They then exit into the blood stream to target and invade red blood cells. Julie’s and my appreciation for science fiction made us see analogies between malaria parasites and aliens from outer space:
“We look up into outer space waiting for aliens to come down to invade Earth, but there are actually already here taking over our bodies”.
This analogy came to inspire our team name, Invasion.
My research on malaria has influenced every aspect of our design:
It is designed for a pregnant woman who lives in a malaria endemic region. Pregnant women who become infected are at a high risk of developing complications of severe malaria that may lead to death.
The open back and empire waist top exposes the abdomen to show the importance of the liver stage. The garment is also light and airy, which is ideal for tropical weather where mosquitos thrive.
The top and skirt are reversible to represent being infected and uninfected. Malaria can be cured using common anti-malarial drug therapy, but not everyone can access or afford antimalarial drugs. In fact, people living in endemic areas will often have multiple bouts with malaria throughout their life span and may develop a partially protective immunity. The infected print was created by mirroring a fluorescent image of P. falciparum I took using a confocal microscope.
The coat is made to prevent mosquito bites and reduce malaria transmission. Female mosquitos transmit malaria parasites when taking a blood meal, and bed nets are used to reduce infection rates.
As we finalized our design we received an email from Mike Struharik inquiring about a breathable mosquito proof suit. While living in the West Indies, he found himself in paradise but constantly battling mosquitos. To avoid bites, Mike wore army boots and head-to-toe denim. Clothing treated with insecticides is available, but the material is thick and not breathable. Making clothing out of mosquito netting does not prevent bites if laid flat on the skin because the mosquito’s feeding appendage can poke through the material. Genevieve Tauxe, an entomology graduate student at the University of California, Riverside, informed us that 6 mm of space is used in her lab to prevent mosquito bites. We are now reaching out to 3D printing companies with the aim to fabricate a mesh with projections to create a safe distance between the netting fabric and the skin.
Mike inspired Julie to modify her futuristic coat design to make it functional. By adding a boning structure, she was able to raise the mosquito net off the skin to create distance between the netting and the skin. A hood will also be added to protect the face and gloves to cover the hands. Overall, our collaboration has resulted in a design that is both fashionable and functional.