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 News - Events IMPE
Passion of the female staff members of IMPE-QN about scientific research

Scientific research is a field that demands numerous qualities and perseverance, even for those with great passion. Professor Albert P. Pisano, Co-chair of the VinFuture Prize Pre-Screening Committee and Dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego, USA, stated, 'Eliminate your fear of being a woman; it will be a powerful inner strength that makes a difference in scientific research organizations,' encouraging female professionals to persist o­n the path of scientific research.

Many prominent figures in academia and science, including Professor Albert P. Pisano, have emphasized the importance of gender diversity in scientific research. They often highlight the value and contributions that women bring to the field. Efforts to encourage and support women in scientific research involve advocating for equal access to education, mentorship, funding, and career advancement opportunities. These efforts aim to create an environment where women scientists can thrive, contribute their unique perspectives, and make significant contributions to the advancement of science and technology.

However, for women, achieving success in this specialized field requires much more effort because besides their work, they also have roles as wives and mothers. Indeed, being passionate about scientific research is already arduous, and for women involved in scientific research, it becomes even more challenging. They have to manage their family duties while simultaneously engaging in scientific research activities within their departments or offices and excelling in their professional duties. Therefore, balancing between studies, professional work, and family responsibilities poses a difficult challenge.

Therefore, due to the nature of the work, the staff of IMPE-QN, particularly those engaged in researching diseases related to malaria, parasitic and vector-borne diseases, are closely tied to laboratory work and fieldwork. Specifically, most of their professional activities often involve extended and distant field trips to remote areas, especially in highland, deep, or remote villages, as an integral part of their professional duties.

The female officers of the Experimental Entomology Unit, Entomology Department, IMPE-QN, adhere to the motto "Live, work, and dedicate to science with utmost passion." Currently, the Insect Testing Unit is maintaining and cultivating five mosquito strains? primarily responsible for transmitting infectious pathogens to humans. Among these, three primary malaria vectors are Anopheles dirus, Anopheles minimus, and Anopheles epiroticus, while the other two, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, act as intermediate vectors transmitting dengue fever, Zika, and chikungunya viruses.

Their daily work in the laboratory of Entomology Department involves maintaining healthy mosquito strains and ensuring they meet laboratory standards. This requires strict adherence to procedures and meticulous attention to detail. For instance, monitoring temperature, humidity, nutritional quality, density, blood-feeding behavior, mating habits, egg-laying needs, etc., to ensure each species completes its life cycle consistently without interruption.

 

The female officers replacing clean water for larvae

Ms. Nguyen Hong Sang, Deputy Head of the Entomology Department, stated, "Mosquitoes are intermediate vectors or hosts that transmit infectious pathogens, causing common and emerging diseases, especially malaria, dengue fever, Zika, chikungunya, and Japanese encephalitis, spreading from person to person or from other organisms to humans. Viet Nam, a tropical country in Southeast Asia, faces a high risk of mosquito-borne diseases among its population. Although these diseases have significantly decreased in recent times due to government vector control efforts, vector-borne diseases persist as a threat to community health. Therefore, maintaining mosquito strains is crucial for research in combating vector-borne diseases within laboratory settings."

The team members are consistently present in the laboratory every day, regardless of ordinary days, rainy weather, storms, or holidays, including Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year). Their commitment involves nurturing and maintaining mosquito strains. Cao Thi Hong Toai, a seasoned staff with over 20 years of experience in the Insect Testing Unit, shared, "Every day, we perform tasks such as collecting nearly hatched pupae and placing them into cages, changing clean water, and maintaining the appropriate larvae density. Maintaining the appropriate density of larvae and pupae is crucial because high density slows down the development process, preventing larvae from maturing fully and/or reducing the reproductiveness of the mature o­nes, altering gender ratios. Additionally, the larvae breeding water needs frequent renewal, and the amount of food must be sufficient, avoiding overfeeding to prevent water from becoming contaminated. Still, it is necessary to ensure that the larvae receive enough nutrition for optimal reproduction."

In addition to maintaining mosquito strains in the laboratory, these women simultaneously care for approximately 350 to 400 laboratory white mice to provide the primary food source necessary for nurturing mature female mosquitoes. Ms. Toai added that the mice also require nutritious meals to enhance and produce a high-quality blood supply. A typical daily diet for the mice includes meat, milk, rice, beans, vegetables, fruits, and feed pellets, provided regularly in two meals per day.

On the other hand, they also employ an artificial blood-feeding method for mosquitoes, utilizing pig blood separated with fibrin membranes (pig intestine membranes and Hemotek) o­n the Hemotex machine system. This method aims to gradually replace or reduce direct blood-feeding o­n laboratory white mice. Providing artificial feedings using the Hemotex machine is an advanced, fast, and simple approach designed to minimize the discomfort and pain experienced by the white mice. Additionally, it reduces the workload and costs associated with caring for and maintaining a large number of laboratory white mice.

 

The diet of laboratory white mice

Photo: the staff are preparing artificial feedings using the Hemotex machine system

 

 For the purebred strains of mosquitoes bred within the laboratory through multiple generations (F: filial generation), they naturally mate within the confines of the enclosure. However, in the case of certain wild mosquito species collected from the field, where there might not be a sufficient number to sustain experimentation, female staff members must perform artificial mating techniques.

Especially with the An. dirus mosquito strain, after breeding them in a controlled laboratory environment and providing blood meals from laboratory white mice for many generations, they become highly fragile and sensitive to factors like temperature, humidity, air quality, water sources, and food. If these factors change, the larvae may not molt, the pupae may not develop into mature mosquitoes, or the mosquitoes may not feed, or even if they feed, they might not lay eggs. In such cases, these women must place their hands into the cage to allow the mosquitoes to feed directly o­n their blood.

Recalling the times when the mosquitoes fed o­n them, Ms. Toai couldn't help but be moved as she shared. There were moments when hundreds of mosquitoes bit, making their hands or legs numb, itchy, and uncomfortable, causing pain. Despite the discomfort and occasional pain, they had to remain still for the mosquitoes to feed. If they withdrew their hand due to pain or itching, the sudden disturbance might break the mosquito's proboscis. Therefore, before offering their blood, they advised each other to scratch or gently rub the area where the mosquito would bite first. This reduced the sensation of being bitten considerably. In a lighter tone, they often joked with each other that the most enjoyable feeling was when they finally withdrew their hands or legs from the cage after the mosquitoes were done feeding, allowing them to scratch the itch.

 

The entomologists from the IMPE-QN's Entomology Department extending their arms into cages for mosquitoes to directly feed o­n blood and the allergic reactions after each instance of mosquitoes feeding o­n human blood

Not o­nly do the women work tirelessly in the laboratory, but they also embark o­n extensive field trips to areas where vector-borne diseases are prevalent. The primary goal of mosquito capture activities is to dissect mosquitoes to detect the presence of sporozoites and oocysts in their bodies, as well as to determine species composition, density, and the evolution of mosquito populations over time at monitored sites, aiming to provide timely and effective prevention measures.

In theory, this may sound o­ne way, but in practice, it involves catching mosquitoes. For these women, half of the year is dedicated to extended field trips, humorously referred to as 'dusty tourism.' Unfortunately, these trips occur in remote forested areas or high mountain regions with scarce road access. Carrying backpacks, they travel across 15 provinces and cities in Central Vietnam. Sometimes, traversing between houses within the same village can take an entire day.

The primary task during these trips is entomological investigation, bluntly put as catching mosquitoes. Numerous methods exist for mosquito capture, but the most commonly used is the human bait. While many people panic at the sight of mosquitoes flying near them while they sleep, these women willingly offer themselves as bait for mosquito bites.

In the past, fieldwork missions used to last for several consecutive months, sometimes even 2-3 months before returning home. However, in recent years, these missions have typically lasted around 10-15 days. During many of these longer trips, the food supplies were insufficient. Both male and female staff in the department had to cook rice o­n the forest fringe, and at night, they simply needed a hammock strung between two trees for sleeping.

In recent years, malaria outbreaks have usually occurred in highland and deep-forested areas. The farther they went, the more challenging the conditions became, and the more disease-transmitting mosquitoes they encountered. Crossing mountain passes, wading through streams, facing difficult living conditions, and shortages have been common. Almost all long-term members of the department have been affected by malaria. Tragically, there have even been cases of people in the Institute dying due to contracting malaria from mosquitoes. Relief is felt when catching a mosquito at night, but upon dissecting it the next morning and finding the malaria parasite, immediate preventive medication is required. However, while the medication can suppress a strong resurgence of the disease, if the malaria parasite has already entered the body, the disease will still develop as usual.

In recent years, malaria outbreaks have typically occurred in highland and deep-forested areas. The farther they traveled, the more challenging the conditions became, and the more disease-transmitting mosquitoes they encountered. Crossing mountain passes, wading through streams, facing harsh living conditions, and experiencing shortages have been common occurrences. Almost all long-term members of the department have been affected by malaria. Tragically, there have even been cases of individuals at the Institute dying due to contracting malaria from mosquitoes. Relief is felt upon catching a mosquito at night, but upon dissecting it the next morning and finding the malaria parasite, immediate preventive medication becomes necessary. However, while the medication can suppress a strong resurgence of the disease, if the malaria parasite has already entered the body, the disease will develop as usual.

Aside from occupational diseases, the most haunting fear for these mosquito hunters is the possibility of falling seriously ill or getting injured, being bitten by venomous snakes or wild animals while working in remote highland areas. Many women have willingly offered themselves as bait for mosquitoes, maintaining colonies of mosquitoes to serve in entomological research.

Besides the risk of occupational diseases, the most haunting fear for these mosquito hunters is the possibility of falling seriously ill or getting injured, as they work in remote highland areas and face the threat of being bitten by venomous snakes or encountering wild animals. Many women willingly offer themselves as bait for mosquitoes to maintain colonies for entomological research.

 

Female staff members from the Experimental Entomology Team analyzing the wing shape of a complex species

The fieldwork is arduous and demanding; meanwhile in the lab, daily work occupies most of their time. However, these women never cease to learn and conduct scientific research to enhance their professional expertise. They always stand united, bonded by their love for the field and the profession, dedicating themselves entirely to the scientific cause. This commitment is evident through the increasing number of scientific topics and innovations led or participated by these women, many of which have been written into research articles and published in reputable national and international journals.

           The achievements have been possible due to the thoughtful attention and support from the Party Committee, the Board of Leadership, and the Trade Union at the grassroots level, as well as the love and encouragement from their families. This conducive environment has allowed these women to pursue their careers with passion and dedication to science. It is these favorable conditions that have enabled the female collective to excellently fulfill their assigned tasks. Therefore, in the past years, female officials and staff at the Institute have achieved many encouraging results and made significant contributions in various medical fields such as malariology, parasitology and medical entomology. They have become competent scientific professionals with high technical expertise, successfully fulfilling their social responsibilities, as well as building a strong and united family.

10/26/2023
Translated by An Khang  

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