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Scientists Propose To Stop Malaria By Protecting Mosquitoes

Sep 18, 2018 10:28 PM EDT
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If mosquitoes don't get malaria, they can't transmit the disease to humans. It sounds crazy to "treat" mosquitoes before people, but the science works out.

Mosquitoes are the main transmitter of the deadly malaria disease. Halting it at the transmission stage is ideal and now there is a possible way to achieve this.

Protecting Mosquitoes May Be The Solution

Existing antimalarial drugs are effective in curing people, but it doesn't help much in the stopping the disease from spreading. Even when the treatment works, the patients still carry the dormant forms of the parasite, which can be passed on to mosquitoes and go on to pass malaria to the next person the fly bites. Thus, even cured survivors can be contributors in the spread of the life-threatening disease.

"What we propose is antimalarial drugs that protect mosquitoes, blocking the parasites from continuing their infectious journey," Jake Baum, lead researcher and professor from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, says in a statement. "By combining such a drug with a conventional antimalarial, we not only cure the individual person, but protect the community as well."

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from the Imperial College London reveal six different compounds that protect the mosquitoes by preventing the parasite from maturing inside of them.

Out of the 70,000 compounds the team screened for the study, only these six showed potential to be turned into treatment blocking malaria transmission. One has even been shown capable of blocking parasite transmission in mouse models.

Major Challenges To Malaria

Finding a solution for the spread of malaria has always been challenging, and this new method is no less different. Any drug that would be successful would have to be very stable, since it could not be applied to the flies directly and would have to survive transmission from human to mosquito.

The complex life cycle is another major obstacle to treating and stopping the dispersement of malaria. Asexual forms of the parasite cause the symptoms of the disease in humans, but its mature sexual male and female forms are dormant, making them very difficult to target with drugs.

These sexual parasites have sex in mosquitoes, producing infectious asexual offspring that the go on to infect more people. With them being extremely active in mosquitoes, they are easier to attack with drugs in the flies than in humans.

Furthermore, Baum points out that the parasites in each individual person eventually become more and more resistant to antimalarial drug, which is why their proposed technique of stopping the disease is advantageous.

"Since transmission occurs in the mosquito, drugs targeting this process have the added benefit of being naturally much more resistance-proof, which could be essential for eliminating malaria," he continues.

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