Tereza Magalhaes, Ph.D., will bring new medical aspects to entomology research in her new position as an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology in Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, effective Jan. 1.

A woman smiling, Dr. Tereza Magalhaes
Tereza Magalhaes, Ph.D., joined the Texas A&M Department of Entomology Jan. 1. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Sam Craft)

Phillip Kaufman, Ph.D., head of the Department of Entomology, said Magalhaes’ experience with global health issues related to vector-borne diseases strengthens the department’s efforts in the field.

Kaufman said Magalhaes will produce research in an independent lab and teach undergraduate and graduate students in several courses related to global public health entomology. This will include addressing how pathogens, like arboviruses, are transmitted by arthropods, impacting humans. Arboviruses can cause diseases and are spread when infected arthropods like ticks and mosquitoes bite humans and animals.

“Dr. Magalhaes brings a diverse research and public health background that adds to existing strengths in the department while filling gaps in the breadth of what we do,” he said. “She brings a high level of expertise and experience based on where she has worked and the research she has worked on.”

Entomologist focused on vector-borne diseases

Magalhaes’ research and teaching interests focus on the determinants and drivers of arthropod-borne disease transmission. She has developed research on mosquito-transmitted pathogens such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya and Madariaga viruses, that involve aspects of host-vector-pathogen interactions, disease epidemiology and ecology, virus emergence and re-emergence, and control and surveillance strategies.

“I hope to strengthen even more the department’s medical, and possibly veterinary, entomology research by bringing new research elements and building new collaborative networks both here and abroad,” she said. “I am excited to join the department, and I think my research will complement what other faculty are doing in this field.”

Her projects engage basic and applied research including understanding the molecular interactions of organisms involved in disease transmission. They also involve the identification of organisms and factors involved in natural transmission cycles of unexplored arboviruses and their potential as an emerging threat.

Magalhaes studies the epidemiology and ecology of these diseases in endemic regions and runs simulations of host-mosquito-arbovirus interactions in her lab. In the field, Magalhaes will continue to work closely with human populations, including ranchers, affected by mosquito-borne diseases. Her work has led to high-impact publications and received significant grant funding over the years.

The aim of her studies is to better understand the transmission dynamics of arborviruses so that improved prevention and control strategies can be developed. Factors Magalhaes will be studying include the identification of potential mosquito vectors and animal hosts of lesser-known arboviruses, spillover events of arboviruses, spatiotemporal epidemiology of arboviral diseases and the effects of host factors on virus transmission by mosquitoes.

“We need to continuously study key elements involved in the transmission dynamics of vector-borne diseases to improve prevention, surveillance and control systems,” she said. “In terms of novel or emerging threats, we need to be prepared for outbreaks or pandemics before they happen, and that is why it is important not only to study diseases that already are a global problem, but also those that represent a potential threat for humans and animals. The more information we have, the better we can develop new tools to predict, monitor and control health threats.”

Proactively addressing vector-borne diseases

Magalhaes is also looking forward to teaching and mentoring students. Next generation professionals trained to work within the complex field of global public health entomology will be critical to respond to the growing number of vector-borne diseases.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, and her doctorate in parasitology from the University of Miami. She has worked as a researcher focused on immunology, pathology and vector-borne infectious diseases in academic institutions including Tufts University School of Medicine, Colorado State University and universities in Brazil over the course of her career.

“We need to strengthen all aspects of vector-borne disease research and development,” she said. “People in this field consistently make the case for being proactive because although we know quite a lot about these diseases, there is still much to learn and discover so that we are positioned well to minimize and even prevent pain and suffering brought about by these diseases.

“We also understand that a strong collaborative network, from colleagues, graduate students and Extension specialists to mosquito control professionals, the public and private sectors, and people in the communities, is critical to meet that mission.”

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