Our Global Voices Posts
Many people don’t choose a career path until after college, or even after a few years of working in a particular field. But then, many are not like my former colleague, Dr. William (Bill) Brogdon.
Bill first entered the doors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a 17-year-old high school student and asked for a job. Soon after, he was put to work in one of the agency’s environmental health labs, a pivotal moment that launched a 50-year long career in the service of protecting the public’s health.
Armed with his training and expertise in entomology, biochemistry, molecular biology, and molecular genetics, Bill quickly demonstrated his talents by innovating methods used to detect and assess insecticide resistance in mosquitoes and other insects that spread diseases like malaria, dengue, and Zika.
Over the course of his career, Bill developed new and improved ways to monitor insecticide resistance, focusing mosquitoes that transmit one of the most deadly diseases: malaria. Despite increased efforts to control diseases, we are seeing widespread increases in insecticide resistance across the world. This poses a major threat to our ability to control malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases…
Today, Bill’s methods continue to be used around the world to identify the ways mosquitoes become resistant to insecticides. Control programs use this critical information to choose cost effective insecticides and to ensure the chemicals used in insecticide-treated bed nets, or for indoor spraying of homes, remain effective in preventing mosquito bites – and thus, preventing the spread of serious diseases.
One of these tools, the CDC Bottle Assay, has emerged as an international standard. This technique is used to conduct mosquito insecticide resistance testing in more than 30 countries, including those supported by the U.S President’s Malaria Initiative.
Recognizing his expertise, Bill was invited to serve on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Expert Committee for Vector Control. He also led the WHO Collaborating Centre for Insecticide/Formulation Evaluation at CDC. Over the years, he continued to advance the field with development of novel assays using loop mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP/RT-LAMP), a technique to amplify genetic material, with an eye towards assessing whether this method could be used for practical field surveillance and analysis of insecticide resistance in low resource, “real world” settings. One of Bill’s most striking attributes was his ability to creatively adapt the latest scientific knowledge to field-relevant scenarios. Indeed, his legacy of simple, elegant, and readily accessible techniques can be seen in nearly every laboratory in the world that conducts surveillance on mosquito insecticide resistance.
Bill retired from government service in 2019, bringing his illustrious CDC journey to a close. However, colleagues and experts like him, including myself, continue to grow his legacy. CDC is a leading international resource on vector control, insecticide resistance, and vector surveillance. We remain firmly committed in our role to assist countries, states, and other public health partners to build capacity to detect, monitor, and mitigate the spread of insecticide resistance. For example, CDC is using Advanced Molecular Detection (AMD) methods to develop novel tools to detect and manage insecticide resistance in mosquitoes that spread diseases such as malaria, dengue, and Zika. Having rapid, field-friendly diagnostic assays that can detect resistance at its earliest stages is critical because the faster we can detect resistance, the better we can prevent it from spreading so we don’t risk losing some of our most effective, life-saving tools.
Bill understood the importance of this mission. After all, he dedicated his whole career to it.
Audrey Lenhart is a research entomologist in the Entomology Branch of the Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria. In addition to leading the branch’s Insecticide Resistance and Vector Control Team, she coordinates CDC’s entomology activities in the USAID-funded Latin America and Caribbean Malaria Program and manages CDC’s portfolio of international vector-related activities for Zika.
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