Tu Youyou (1930 - ): Malaria’s Nemesis

In the 60s and 70s, China found itself in a precarious position: at war with Vietnam and the US, going through massive societal upheaval due to the Cultural Revolution, and, on top of that, ravaged by malaria.

To combat the spread of malaria, Mao Zedong formed a secret military group, nicknamed 523 for its starting date of May 23, to scour through tomes of ancient Chinese remedies in search of a cure for malaria. The task largely fell to Tu Youyou, a medical researcher in an era where scientists were unpopular at large. She labored over 2,000 potential remedies before, in 1977, finally hitting on an effective one: artemisinin, derived from sweet wormwood. After some false starts, the remedy was found to be effective in rats and monkeys. In need of an initial human subject, Tu volunteered herself.

“As head of this research group, I had the responsibility,” she said. “It is scientists’ responsibility to continue fighting for the healthcare of all humans.”

To date, this remedy remains humanity’s most effective weapon against malaria.

Unfortunately, Tu remained in obscurity, despite her herculean efforts. Her findings were published anonymously, and it was not until 2005, when a visiting researcher asked who had actually discovered artemisinin, that her name came to light – and even that required no small amount of research on the part of the medical community. A 2007 interview showed her living in poor conditions, working out of an old apartment building with intermittent heating problems. She only owned two electronic appliances: a telephone and a refrigerator (which she used to store herb samples).

She was recognized with the prestigious Lasker prize in 2011 for her efforts in fighting malaria. Upon receiving it, she remarked that she was grateful, but “I feel more reward when I see so many patients cured.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Lasker Foundation, New Scientist

(thanks to vickadididididi for sending this in!)

Youyou Tu is one of three scientists to win the Nobel Prize in medicine. The 12th woman to receive the award, she was recognized for her discoveries around a new malaria treatment – based in centuries-old Chinese medicine.

Artemisinin, when used in combination therapy, is estimated to reduce mortality from malaria by more than 20 percent over all, and by more than 30 percent in children. In Africa alone, it saves more than 100,000 lives each year.

A mosquito that does good for a change

Here comes news of a possible big win for the world: the eradication of malaria, a disease that causes one million deaths per year.

And this is all possible with the creation of malaria-blocking mosquitoes that are no longer a carrier and transmitter of the parasite.

Using the CRISPR gene-editing tool, researchers at UC Irvine and UC San Diego created a breed of mosquitoes that are resistant to malarial parasite and have the ability to pass on the anti-malarial gene to 99.5 percent of its offspring.

More testing needs to be done, but if the advancement could someday lead to the elimination of the disease, millions of people living in malaria zones around the world could sleep more peacefully knowing that the irritating whizzing sound is more of a “self-sustaining disease control tool” than a looming threat. 

Read more about the experiment.

GIF: TED-Ed

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Over 755,000 people have died from Malaria in the last 12 months. Super Enzyme Justice League (SEJL) talks about the disease and the heroic work being done by Malaria No More.  

Watch videos and vote for your faves: projectforawesome.com

Fooling female mosquitoes to combat malaria

Tricking virgin female mosquitoes into thinking they’ve had sex could reduce the spread of malaria.

Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, the main transmitters of malaria, only mate once in their life cycles.

A hormone is passed to the female mosquito during sex which induces her to lay eggs and makes her unreceptive to other potential mates.

Scientists from Imperial College London, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, and the University of Perugia, Italy think this could prove an Achilles heel. If they could mimic this hormone in virgin females they wouldn’t mate and would effectively be sterilised.

Although a female only mates once she can lay several batches of eggs, making An. gambiae the most efficient vector of the human malaria parasite. Malaria is a leading cause of death in tropical and subtropical regions. The World Health Organisation estimates that malaria causes over 650,000 deaths each year, 90 per cent of them in Africa – and most of them children.   

Read more

Image copyright: iStock

NEW RESEARCH: Museum researchers and collaborators have discovered a malaria parasite, Plasmodium odocoilei, which may be present in up to 25 percent of white-tailed deer along the East Coast of the United States. The study also suggests that another, as yet undescribed, species of malaria parasite may also be present in some deer.

“Malaria parasites are quite diverse,” said Susan Perkins, a curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology and an author of the study.“They infect many different kinds of vertebrates, including birds, lizards, and bats, but it was very exciting to find this deer malaria parasite right in our own backyards.” 

The malaria parasites found in a deer species are not considered a danger to human, but could help researchers learn more about the health of wildlife populations.

Read the full story on the Museum blog.  

This actually happened to my friend who also studies medicine but in another city.

So she was just doing her peds rotation and she got this little girl with unexplained high fever, splenomegaly, back pain, fatigue etc. 

After few days she got all better and went home. 

About month later she was back, fevers.

Nobody asked the mom about travelling. She have seen several doctors, specialist and few medstudents. And my friend asked the one question

Did u travel anywhere in the past?

And apparently the whole family went on vacation in summer to south of Italy. The girl got malaria.

MALARIA.

We live in central Europe but damn this shows we really gotta think about everything. Also one other thing

Properly taken history is half of the diagnosis

It probably was an airport transmission. Like if I didn´t hate flying before this

Who’s the scariest animal of them all? 

The most frightening creature on earth is barely visible. It’s the lowly, annoying mosquito. There are more than 3,000 species of mosquito, but three varieties are the culprits in most death and disease: Aedes, Culex and Anopheles. The first two cause such ailments as Dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and West Nile fever. This skeeter is responsible, for 600,000 malaria deaths, making it by far the most dangerous animal on the planet.

Learn about more blood-sucking insects here. 

Image: Aedes mosquito. Macroscopic Solutions/Flickr

Creating a malaria test for ancient human remains

Ancient malaria patients, the anthropologist will see you now.

A Yale University scientist has developed a promising new method to identify malaria in the bone marrow of ancient human remains. It is the first time researchers have been able to establish a diagnostic, human skeletal profile for the disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes and continues to infect millions of people a year.

The new process may allow scientists to track the spread of malaria back to its first appearance in human populations. The method, which works effectively on bones resistant to previous forms of testing, also may be applicable to other diseases. Read more.

sciencemag.org
Malaria parasite found hiding out in North American deer
Finding could reshape what is known about geography of disease

North America’s most popular game species, the white-tailed deer, harbors a secret: low levels of a malaria parasite that have only now been detected thanks to advanced DNA technology. Though this particular species of parasite poses little risk to humans, researchers say the find could reshape our understanding of malaria’s origins.

There are more than 100 species of malaria parasites, distributed on every continent except Antarctica. Those that infect birds and lizards are widely distributed, even on seemingly isolated ocean islands, and certainly in the Americas. Yet scientists believed that the microorganisms that infect mammals originated in the Old World, mainly Africa and Asia.

The new findings were discovered by chance. Researchers led by Ellen Martinsen, a biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s genetics center in Washington, D.C., were searching for the source of malaria parasites in birds at the national zoo. Using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, which amplifies DNA to make it easier to study, they identified a genetic signature of an unexpected malaria parasite, Plasmodium odocoilei, previously unknown in the Americas. The researchers were able to obtain a large enough sample of blood from the mosquito’s enlarged abdomen to trace its origin to white-tailed deer. “We weren’t out there, testing a hypothesis,” Martinsen says. “We serendipitously stumbled upon this weird sequence.”

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