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Gambian mosquito control researcher to become disease detective’ with CDC after graduating with PhD

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By Risa Aria Schnebly

When Ndey Bassin Jobe was finishing her undergraduate degree in earth and space exploration, she knew she wanted to pursue graduate school, but questioned how much space exploration would actually help people on Earth.

“I’m coming from sub-Saharan Africa,” she explains, “and I’m very much interested in what I can do to help my continent, my people, my community. And I realized that maybe studying life on other planets would not have helped much in addressing the pressing public health needs of my continent at the time.”

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Thinking about what affected people in The Gambia, her home country, she realized that she could be directly helpful by studying public health. Specifically, she was interested in studying topics focused on the control of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, as people in sub-Saharan Africa are affected by them at the highest rates.

Around the time Bassin was making that decision, Krijn Paaijmans, a disease ecologist, was just setting up the Innovative Vector Solutions lab at ASU’s Tempe campus. When the two connected, the timing was perfect: Bassin became one of Paaijmans’s first graduate students at ASU. 

Bassin focused much of her research during her PhD in biology on developing a new tool that used electric fields to repel the pesky bugs, which people can place in openings of buildings such as windows, eaves, doorways and any other spaces where mosquitoes might try to enter, thereby reducing human-mosquito contact.

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Ndey Bassin Jobe 2

“Usually, when we develop mosquito control tools, we use insecticide-based interventions. But mosquitoes have developed resistance to almost every class of insecticide available and approved for use,” Bassin says. “So when I started my PhD, my main goal was to work on non-chemical mosquito control tools to combat the issue of resistance. But also to … add to the mosquito vector control toolkit. I feel like the more vector control tools we have, the better.” 

Bassin extensively tested her electric field repellent device, which she designed to use cheap, long-lasting materials, and even patented it. Undergraduates working in the Paaijmans’ lab are continuing to work on testing the tool in the lab in hopes that it will soon be ready to be distributed and tested in the field in sub-Saharan Africa, which was always Bassin’s goal.

At the end of her PhD, Bassin was accepted into the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Epidemic Intelligence Service fellowship program. As one of 50 new “disease detectives” who are part of the program, Bassin may be deployed to areas with disease outbreaks to investigate and identify the cause, implement control measures and recommend future preventative actions to protect the public. 

“I’m really glad that I have this opportunity to work at the CDC and receive top-notch training in public health service. My goal is to complete this invaluable training, and eventually return to my homeland, the Gambia, to apply what I have learned and make meaningful impact in public health there,” she says.

Bassin will be moving to Atlanta to start her new position, where she’ll be working for the next two years.

Question: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

Answer: I would use the 40 million dollars to combat the burden of mosquito-borne diseases by investing the money into the electric-field technology that I worked on during my PhD. Specifically, I would work on integrating the technology into homes and buildings, with a primary emphasis on regions heavily burdened by mosquito-borne diseases, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. I think that enhancing and incorporating the electric field technology into the mosquito vector control toolkit could make a significant impact in reducing the prevalence and burden of mosquito-borne diseases and improving public health outcomes in vulnerable communities.

Question: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

Answer: Prioritize your mental and physical health and wellbeing. I think that was something I neglected in the beginning of my PhD. Make sure to rest when you need to and create a healthy work-life balance. If you don’t, you can burnout, making school unpleasant. So, take care of yourself, both physically and mentally, so you can fully enjoy the learning journey.

Source: asu.edu

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