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60-Second Science

More Fronts in Fight against Malaria

World Malaria Day brought awareness of the unorthodox biomedical ideas that are joining the search for a vaccine. Cynthia Graber reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

April 25th was World Malaria Day. The mosquito-borne disease is still one of the biggest killers in developing countries with a death toll of a million each year. But there’s an international push for a multi-front war on malaria, ranging from cheap and effective bed netting to the development of a vaccine. The Gates Foundation has bet on vaccines, but is also funding less conventional scientific approaches.

For example, a scientist at Colorado State University is working on making human blood a mosquito killer. Some drugs already distributed in the developing world to combat parasites such as hookworm are also toxic to the malaria-transmitting Anopheles mosquito. The mosquito bites, and the drug in the blood kills it. Researchers are investigating how this approach could be applied and expanded.

Another team from the University of Washington discovered that the malaria parasite in Asia outsmarts drugs and develops resistance much more quickly than in other parts of the world. They’ve been investigating the mechanism of action to be able to figure out a way to block that resistance.

There is hope: in recent years, the Maldives, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates have eliminated malaria.

—Cynthia Graber

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