Malaria leads to the death of over 550,000 children every year; nearly one dead child every minute. The disease is transmitted through four species of Plasmodium parasite that reaches humans through a mosquito vector. Though concerted efforts have cut the number of malaria cases by 50% since 2001, there is still a lot of work to be done to get rid of it completely. A new drug called (+)-SJ733 has been shown to effectively kill the malaria parasite in mice in only 48 hours. R. Kiplin Guy of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is senior author on the paper, which has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Our goal is to develop an affordable, fast-acting combination therapy that cures malaria with a single dose,” R Kiplin Guy published in a press release. “These results indicate that SJ733 and other compounds that act in a similar fashion are highly attractive additions to the global malaria eradication campaign, which would mean so much for the world’s children, who are central to the mission of St. Jude.”
The mechanism of action can probably be explained most cleanly by the following inforgraphic, but I encourage you to read the study (or abstract) if you want to know more specific details.
Of course, this effort centers primarily around curing infected individuals, but there are also efforts underway that try to prevent it altogether. Other efforts are trying to get rid of the parasite by centering on prevention. One solution I particularly cool is replacing today’s malaria vectors with mosquitoes who are immune to infection with the parasite. This is being accomplished already (since 2009) by creating mosquitoes that cannot spread the infection and which outcompete those that do.
A combined effort of prevention (in the form of resistant mosquitoes with “meiotic drive,” allowing them to outcompete current malaria carrying strains) and more effective treatment can mean the end of malaria. We would certainly be smart to not focus simply on treating the disease, but also on removing it with the lowest ecological cost possible.