NCBiotech Grant Helps ECU Scientist's Pesticide Quest

A researcher in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University has received a grant to study the human and environmental safety of NoPest, an ECU-created novel pesticide aimed at mosquito control.

Lok Pokhrel, PhD
Brody researcher Lok Pokhrel, Ph.D. received a grant
from NCBiotech to continue research on a potentially safer
pesticide for mosquito control -- ECU photo


Brody researcher Lok Pokhrel, Ph.D. received a grant to continue research on a potentially safer pesticide created for mosquito control.

Lok Pokhrel, assistant professor in Brody’s Department of Public Health and the College of Health and Human Performance’s Department of Health Education and Promotion, was awarded $109,772 by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. The Translational Research Grant will fund research for 18 months.

Translational research focuses on techniques and tools that address critical medical needs and is specifically designed to improve health outcomes.

“What we are exactly testing, is our NoPest safer to the environment when it is applied for mosquito control? Our preliminary results indicate that at the dose that kills the mosquitos, NoPest appears to be safer to human cells, algae and plants,” Pokhrel said. “More detailed studies that we have just started through this grant will enable us to determine how NoPest compares with the competitions in terms of safety.

“If it is deemed safer, we could register our product with the US EPA for an Experimental Use Permit, which will then allow us apply our product in the field environment.”

The research will contribute to a variety of conversations on both the safety of pesticides and the worldwide threat of mosquito-borne illnesses including malaria, West Nile virus, Zika disease and dengue fever.

“Safety entails human health and ecological safety,” Pokhrel said. “To this end, we will test the potential effects of our novel pesticide invention on the freshwater algae, water flea, honeybee and plants, including the human cell lines. In addition, we will assess potential environmental stability and degradation of our pesticide invention to determine how long it would persist in soil and water.”

Motivated by personal experience

Pokhrel’s motivation comes partially from witnessing the prevalent use of Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) for mosquito control.

DDT spraying in India. -- iStock
DDT spraying in India. -- iStock

“Growing up in a small town in Nepal, we were exposed to DDT almost on a daily basis during the summer months when mosquitos abound and local government would have trucks drive through the streets spraying DDT, leaving a thick cloud of fog engulfing the entire house and the neighborhood,” he said. “I was unaware then that DDT could have such long-lasting effects to human health.”

Although DDT has long been banned in the United States and parts of Europe, its use still continues today in Asia and other parts of the world.

Conventional pesticides are highly toxic even at low doses and have impacted the environment and human health for generations. Despite known toxicity and risk, industries are allowed to make and sell such highly toxic pesticides to control mosquitos and other insects that transmit various disease-causing pathogens to humans, animals and crops.

According to preliminary results from Pokhrel’s research, NoPest-Ag5 possesses competitive advantages including total mosquito egg hatching inhibition and no observed cellular toxicity in human cell lines at a five times higher dose than the dose that kills mosquitoes.

Deals with toxicity, price constraints

NoPest also has a projected manufacturing cost of 5 cents per gallon, he said. Novaluron, a larvicide used as an industry standard for mosquito control, costs close to $1,200 per gallon.

Shutterstock image of mosquito
-- Shutterstock 

An additional motivation for the research is the development over time of insecticide resistance in mosquitoes as they adapt to current products, Pokhrel said, necessitating that novel insecticides be brought to market.

NCBiotech’s Translational Research Grants fund projects that explore potential commercial applications or initiate the early commercial development of university-held life sciences inventions. The technology must have the potential to solve a real-world problem as a commercial product in the life sciences sector.

For Pokhrel, the grant is a big-step toward a product that can have life-long positive implications for people and the environment.

“It is very fulfilling to be a part of research that shows potential to improve human health and environmental safety and at the same time lower the pest control costs significantly,” he said. “Being a part of the solution to provide an effective and safer alternative to toxic conventional pesticides and the novel phenomena that we frequently observe working with nanomaterials keep me grounded on the translational work I do and that I am passionate about.”

Spaine Stephens, East Carolina University Writer
Wed, 09/09/2020 - 09:12
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