When you think of malaria, are mosquitos the first image that appears? While a microscopic parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, is responsible for malaria, mosquitos are often the vectors, carrying and transmitting infection via mosquito bites. But now, researchers are biting back (figuratively, of course). According to Medical XPress, researchers from the WRIM in South Africa are artificially infecting mosquitos with human malaria to assist with research and help determine potential treatment or drug development options. See the full study and research published in Nature Communications.
Although there are current treatment options available for patients with malaria, they are often not protective against transmission. Rather, they target the parasite during a certain stage of life. Additionally, current treatment options often develop drug resistance. Researchers wanted to see if they could find a specific drug to be a chemotype, which would prevent transmission from mosquitos to humans, and vice versa.
During their study, the researchers evaluated 400 different chemical compounds from the Medicines for Malaria Venture’s Pandemic Response Box. Within this are 400 diverse therapeutic molecules designed to target a variety of fungi, viruses, and bacteria. So long as researchers share data within 2 years, the Pandemic Response Box, and its molecules, are free for use. This type of research is crucial as finding specific drug compounds that will not only stop transmission, but allow for mass distribution, is often the most difficult and expensive part of the process.
After identifying which compounds were most effective on late-stage parasites that are already in the blood, researchers fed mosquitos with blood treated with the compounds. Researchers are still testing to see whether those who received this blood had different outcomes than those receiving blood without the compounds.
Although this research seems promising, additional research, laboratory studies, and other activities must be done before any actionable results can be seen.
Although malaria is largely transmitted through mosquitos, it can be transmitted through other ways: blood transfusions, birth (from mother to child), or sharing needles. This condition is more common in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Asia, New Guinea, and a variety of African countries. However, it is much rarer in the United States, with only an estimated 1,700 cases yearly. Symptoms include:
- High fevers
- Low blood sugar
- Flu-like symptoms, such as shivering, chills, or night sweats
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle, chest, and abdominal pain
- Extreme fatigue
- Organ failure
Without treatment, malaria can be fatal. However, at least 8 African countries have placed combatting malaria at the top of their list of policy goals. So hopefully, in the future, transmission will be lessened greatly. Learn more about malaria.