Yeya Touré retires after 13 years at TDR

TDR news item
26 June 2014

Yeya Touré, the unit leader for vectors, environment and society research, retires at the end of June after a long and extremely productive career – both at TDR and earlier. A native of Mali, he started as a cell biologist, geneticist, and medical entomologist, who went on to lead the Malaria Research and Training Center there. Due to his oversight at TDR, a number of improved methods for controlling the vectors that transmit diseases like malaria, dengue, Chagas disease, and human African trypanosomiasis are now in use and improving the lives of many people.

Yeya came to TDR in 2001 to manage the Molecular Entomology Committee and coordinate malaria research. During the next six years, he helped stimulate molecular biology, genetics, and genomics of tropical disease vectors. This led to the completion of the genome sequence of the malaria mosquito, the Anopheles gambiae, which opened opportunities to better understand vector biology and insecticide resistance mechanisms and develop new tools. With support from Yeya’s team, research groups working in Mali, Kenya, and Cameroon identified weaknesses in vector-control interventions and gaps in baseline data. Their research helped improve the implementation of the ongoing interventions.

“We now know that the very vectors we tried to control with insecticides had become resistant to them,” Yeya explains. “The findings from this research, when put into practice, will make a tangible difference to the lives of 100 million people in the three countries where malaria prevalence is a high 70%.”

"There have been 62 research publications by grantees that have been published as a result of the work Yeya and collaborators have overseen for research on vectors, environment and society – a big contribution to an important field."

John Reeder, TDR Director

A similar study on Chagas disease in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil identified the hotspots of transmission and showed that the triatomine bugs there were developing resistance to insecticides.

“Moreover,” Yeya adds, “the research TDR supports takes into account changing environments and also engages communities in controlling these vectors. I am the most proud of the implementation research activities because they have had a direct impact in improving control interventions.”

Yeya also helped create the International Glossina Genome Initiative (IGGI) Consortium that sequenced and published the Glossina morsitans genome, one of 32 species of tsetse fly that are vectors of trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness. Today the scientific community can use this information to develop new tools for disease control, like better tsetse fly traps.

Dr Touré is leaving TDR with the completion of a major guidance framework for testing genetically modified mosquitoes. Produced in cooperation with the U.S. Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the framework provides the latest research evidence in efficacy, safety and addressing ethical, social, cultural and regulatory issues. Two training manuals on laboratory biosafety and biosecurity, and on biosafety for human health and the environment in the context of potential use of genetically modified mosquitoes, are being finalized.

TDR restructuring led to a new unit that Yeya has led since 2011 – vectors, environment and society research. Under his leadership, a new partnership was established with Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to conduct a four-year research project on adaptation in Africa to climate change impact on vector-borne diseases. The goal is to help identify options that reduce negative impacts on health due vector-borne diseases under climate change conditions.

During all of his time at TDR, Yeya was also supporting the development of research capacity in the low- and middle-income countries where TDR works. “I am proud of the 180 people who have taken their training forward in bioinformatics and functional genomics applied to vectors, and the 148 trainees in biosafety for human health and the environment in relation to potential use of genetically modified mosquitoes for malaria and dengue control,” he says.

There have been 62 research publications by grantees that have been published as a result of the work Yeya and collaborators have overseen for research on vectors, environment and society – a big contribution to an important field.

When asked the key to his success, he says with a smile, “Partnerships. When we work together, whether it’s in-house, with other organizations, or with our grantees, it’s the shared goals and respect that have helped us achieve so much.”

Yeya is moving back to Mali, where he hopes to be able to continue to help strengthen research capacity for problem solving and tool development.

For more information, contact:

Jamie Guth
TDR Communications Manager
Telephone: +41 79 441 2289
E-mail: guthj@who.int

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