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New Life for Ancient Malaria Remedy

Credit: Paula Bronstein / iStockphoto

A Burmese boy suffering from malaria is held by his mother at a special clinic for malaria. Credit: Paula Bronstein / iStockphoto

By Nick Klonis & Leann Tilley

The parasite responsible for malaria is developing resistance to a frontline drug that was first used in China more than 2000 years ago. By determining how artemisinin works, scientists may have just opened a new battlefront in the war against malaria.

Nick Klonis is a Senior Research Fellow andr Leann Tilley is a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Bio21 Institute, The University of Melbourne.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

In the 5th century BC, Hippocrates described a sickness that was caused by breathing the air of fetid swamps. The disease became known as malus aria – Latin for “bad air”.

It was not until just over 100 years ago that protozoan parasites were identified as the causative agent of the disease. These deceptively simple single-celled organisms exhibit a very complex lifecycle involving a human and a mosquito.

Following a bite from an infected female Anopheles mosquito during a “blood meal”, the parasite enters the human bloodstream. Its first port of call is the liver, where it produces thousands of daughter parasites that are re-released into the circulation. Here, the parasites invade red blood cells and undergo further rounds of multiplication, causing fever and sometimes life-threatening illness in the victim. After a period of development, the parasite changes again and can be taken up by a mosquito to continue the cycle.

The World Health Organization currently estimates that one child dies every minute from infection with the most pathogenic human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. As dreadful as these statistics are, we have seen a 20% decrease in the number of deaths from malaria in the past decade, giving hope that malaria can be beaten.

These improvements are the result of the widespread use of insecticide-treated bed nets and the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.