Smart parasites? It sounds ominous, but new research into malaria parasites is giving scientists a better understanding of disease transmission. It seems that the malaria parasite is able to increase its own transmission rate by ‘relapsing’ during the times that the host animal is bitten by the insects that are capable of spreading it.
Researchers worked with domestic canaries infected with Plasmodium relictum, which is the most common parasite involved in cases of bird malaria in Eastern songbirds. They found that when the canaries were bitten by uninfected mosquitoes, parasite numbers in their blood increased, which in turn resulted in higher infection rates of the mosquitoes.
Pretty efficient. So how can understanding parasite evolution help us? Ultimately, understanding the factors that lead to these ‘relapses’ could help researchers develop better ways to control the disease. While it’s not yet known whether this type of transmission is present in humans, there are many other human pathogens that can also relapse after dormant periods (such as HIV, Herpes Simplex, and Mycobacterium tuburculosis), so it’s possible that this research could help scientists understand potential triggers for relapse in these diseases, as well. Read more about it here:
Now that summer’s here, have you noticed that the mosquitoes are out in full force? Did you know that mosquitoes cause more human suffering and disease than any other organism on the planet? Over 750,000 people a year die from mosquito-borne illnesses, and it’s not just humans that are affected! Mosquitoes spread dog heartworms, Eastern equine encephalitis, and many other diseases that affect our pets and local wildlife. But there might soon be a solution!
Researchers have figured out a way to genetically engineer mosquitoes that could dramatically reduce or eliminate some mosquito-borne illnesses. In these mosquitoes, when sperm is produced, the X chromosome that the male would normally pass on to its female young is destroyed, so 95% of the time they only have male offspring. Why does this matter? Well, male mosquitoes don’t bite- the females do. Females spread disease, and one female can lay up to 3,000 eggs over the course of her lifetime.
Hopefully, this type of pest control could eliminate many mosquito-borne illnesses. But could this type of gender control work in other species? Could this research have applications in the understanding and management of X-linked diseases? What do you think?
While there are some therapies for the most common forms of malaria, they’re usually only effective in one stage of the disease, leaving many patients at risk for a relapse. In one form of malaria, parasites can remain dormant in the liver for up to two years! But by isolating strains of parasites that are resistant to current treatments, scientists were able to develop a new target for malaria treatment that could work at multiple stages of the malaria life cycle. This is an important step in developing next-generation antimalarial drugs that can not only treat, but also prevent and block the spread of malaria. There’s still a lot of work to be done in the quest to eliminate the disease, but this new breakthrough is great news!
Pretty cool- the Novartis Malaria Initiative is a program that provides access to medicines, and over the last 10 years, they have delivered over 600 million treatments in over 60 countries- without profit! Their program aims to improve human health by creating long-term, sustainable access to medicines to those in developing countries.
Malaria is a disease that is spread by mosquitos, and in Africa, it kills almost 600,000 people each year- mostly children. But a large-scale malaria vaccine clinical trial involving over 15,000 infants and children in Africa has shown some promising results! There was a 46% reduction in the number of malaria cases in children who were between 5 months and 17 months old at their first vaccination, and a 27% reduction in the number of cases in children who were 6-12 weeks old at first vaccination. Fewer cases of severe malaria as well as fewer hospitalizations for the disease were also reported.
While more information can still be gained from further follow-up visits, if everything falls into place, the World Health Organization could issue a recommendation for the vaccine in 2015. And that’s good news for everyone!