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Streets Of London: Big Breakthrough On Malaria

Big Breakthrough On Malaria


From The Streets Of London With Malcolm Aitken

A big medical breakthrough came to light last Tuesday in time for Friday, Africa Malaria Day. Researchers finally have ‘all the information’ necessary to develop a new generation of resistance-busting anti-malaria drugs, a professor on a joint Edinburgh-Bangkok project told Scoop. ‘It will be at least four or five years before we can even think of new treatments but we now have all the information required’, says Professor Malcolm Walkinshaw from Edinburgh University.

About a million people die from malaria annually, 90 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa, mainly children; an African child dies of malaria every 30 seconds. Professor Walkinshaw told Scoop the drug pyrimethamine was once chief among drugs that successfully treated malaria, but resistance has increased as DHFA, a protein produced by the malaria parasite, has mutated to resist pyrimethamine.

The DNA from the deadliest malaria parasite, plasmodium falciparum, has been sequenced. This together with tests comparing regular DHFA with its mutant cousin has provided a ‘high resolution’ picture of the process behind resistant malaria, apparently providing the pieces missing from a puzzle experts have worked on for years. UK researchers have worked in conjunction with a team from Thailand’s national centre for genetic engineering and biotechnology.


Figure 1… World map of current malaria incidence.
…source Leeds University

Africa Malaria Day is part of Roll Back Malaria, a joint WHO, UNICHEF, United Nations Development Programme and World Bank project. Its goal is to halve malaria globally by 2010. For more information Scoop readers can visit: http://www.rbm.who.int

From the Roll Back Malaria website: many children who survive an episode of severe malaria may suffer from learning impairments or brain damage. Pregnant women and their unborn children are also particularly vulnerable to malaria. The theme for this year's event is insecticide-treated nets and effective treatment for pregnant women and young children by 2005. The slogan is 'Roll Back Malaria, Protect Women and Children!'

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- Malcolm Aitken is a freelance journalist based in London. He can be contacted at MTFAitken@aol.com

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