WASHINGTON, D.C.- Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by parasites that occurs in high proportions in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of those who become infected with severe malaria and die are children; every minute one child dies from malaria in Africa. Scientists around the world are conducting malaria research looking for innovative treatments and prevention mechanisms and have recently made several groundbreaking discoveries.
Wiping Malaria Off the Planet
Dr. Li Guoqiao of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine was one of the researchers who turned a Chinese herbal medicine into artemisinin, one of the most effective antimalarial drugs ever invented. Artemisinin is now the standard treatment around the globe. Guoqiao is now conducting experiments in Comoros, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean of the eastern coast of Africa, using a combination drug therapy to abolish malaria entirely on the island. If his experiment is successful, he will next try this drug therapy on the African mainland.
The standard approach to preventing malaria is to attack mosquitoes with chemical insecticides. Guoqiao’s approach is much different; he is trying to attack the parasite that the mosquitoes spread instead. The parasite has two hosts, mosquitoes and humans, if Guoqiao can make the human body hostile to them then the whole species way die. A similar approach to this worked with smallpox, a disease that also only attacked humans.
After 90 percent of the region’s population received three doses of the combination drug the incidence of malaria fell by 95 percent, this is not total eradication but it is possible that the same man who found a treatment for malaria may also find a cure.
The Canadian Science Prodigy
Canadian Jessie MacAlpine was only a 14-year-old high school student when she published her first research paper, “The effects of CO2 and chronic cold exposure on fecundity of female Drosophila melanogaster.” Now 18-years-old, MacApline is a freshman at the University of Toronto and is working on malaria research.
The new anti-malaria drug she is experimenting with is made from mustard oil. If successful the drug will be cheap, effective, and accessible to the quarter billion people who become infected with malaria every year. The exciting about this potential drug is that it could be produced naturally with minimal equipment making it more accessible to those in developing countries.
MacApline has already patented two of her inventions, which she discovered in her basement lab. Bioherbicide, developed using mustard plants coffee grounds and a mustard-oil compound and allyl isothiocyanate, which she hopes to develop into the antimalarial drug.
Using DNA to Diagnose Malaria
A United Kingdom biotech firm has recently developed a handheld device that can use DNA to diagnose malaria in just 15 minutes. The diagnostic tool called Q-POC is they size of an Ipad and is being called a “portable laboratory.” With further development it may be small enough to fit into a doctor’s pocket. There is great hope that this device will make it faster and easier for doctors in rural developing regions to diagnose various diseases.
– Elizabeth Brown
Sources: Centers for Disease Control, The Star, The Economist, CBC News
Photo: Development Diaries