A mosquito can detect the carbon dioxide emanating from a prospective meal from hundreds of feet away. The Kite Patch, a small, non-toxic sticker that you place on your clothing, can jam a mosquito's CO2 radar. Wear one, the patch's creators say, and you'll be effectively invisible to the bloodsuckers for up to 48 hours.
The Kite Patch was developed by Grey Frandsen, Michelle Brown and Torrey Tayanaka of Olfactor Laboratories and, according to the FAQ page at the patch's website, is based on the findings of researcher Anandasankar Ray and his colleagues at University of California Riverside. If we had to guess, we'd say the FAQ are referring to this study, published by Ray and his team in a June 2011 issue of Nature, in which the researchers identify three groups of chemicals that can disrupt a mosquito's carbon dioxide receptors. We wrote about the discovery at the time, and here's the upshot:
Each group of chemicals works a little differently to confound its target. The first actually mimics carbon dioxide, and could be used to lure mosquitoes away from their human targets and into insect traps; the second prevents the mosquitoes from detecting carbon dioxide altogether; and the third actually switches the CO2-sensing machinery of the mosquitoes into overdrive, overloading the mosquitoes' senses to the point of confusion.
In a project currently seeking funding on indiegogo, the team hopes to field test the patch in Uganda, "one of the toughest proving grounds there is":
With your help, large-scale testing in Uganda will simultaneously provide over 1,000,000 hours of protection during a large field test for families who are suffering from malaria infection rates of over 60% and allow us to optimize Kite before we begin scaling for global distribution.
The results will help us finalize the formulation and any last product design changes. Once the formulation is finalized we can begin the EPA registration process for the US. Once we have approval in the US, we will be capable of scaling the product for widespread and market-sensitive distribution – especially for those where mosquitoes mean life or death.
The Kite Patch is what's known in epidemiological circles as as spatial repellant. In a review published last year in Malaria Journal, researchers note that spatial repellants have shown a lot of promise in the fight against disease-transmission by vectors like mosquitoes, but have yet to be incorporated into multi-lateral disease control programs. One reason for this is a lack of epidemiological data supporting their efficacy:
There is a critical need for Phase III community trials integrating simultaneous monitoring of infection incidence with vector population metrics... Such confirmatory studies will require unambiguous entomological measures of repellency versus irritancy and/or knock down effects in reducing vector entry into a given interior space or outside area, as well as reductions in vector biting densities (to include potential redirection to untreated spaces with human hosts) concurrent with reduced pathogen transmission. The challenge arises when designing an impact study to ensure both entomological and parasitological endpoints correlate with true repellency effects.
How rigorous the Kite Patch's fields tests will actually be remains to be seen, but a project like this has the potential to provide tons of data, while helping the people who need it most. Fingers crossed for progress, everybody.
Read more over at Kite Patch's indiegogo page.
h/t Laughing Squid