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Rensselaer Research Review Spring 2007 * Feature Articles Awards & Grants Recent Patents Accolades
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Discovery Could Help Stop Malaria at Its Source - the Mosquito
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Audio Summary: “Stopping Malaria”
MP3 file version
Drug Resistant Malaria Map
* Resistance to antimalarial drugs like chloroquine is widespread throughout much of Africa and other parts of the developing world where malaria transmission is high. WHO/UNICEF. WORLD MALARIA REPORT 2005, GENEVA, MAY 3, 2005.
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Malaria kills over one million people around the world every year, mostly young children.

And the problem is growing. As the Earth heats up due to global warming, outbreaks of malaria are being reported higher up the coast of South America and Mexico each year.

Even though malaria is not considered a major threat in the United States, an interdisciplinary team led by researchers from Rensselaer has been working on this global problem.

They recently found a key link that causes malarial infection in both humans and mosquitoes. If this link in the chain of infection can be broken at its source — the mosquito — then the spread of malaria could be stopped without drugs.

What We Have in Common With Mosquitoes

The researchers found that humans and the malaria-carrying mosquitoes share the same complex carbohydrate, heparan sulfate. In both humans and mosquitoes, heparan sulfate is a receptor for the malaria parasite, binding to the parasite and giving it quick and easy transport through the body.

“The discovery allows us to think differently about preventing the disease,” said Robert Lindhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. ’59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering at Rensselaer. “If we can stop heparan sulfate from binding to the parasite in mosquitoes, we will not just be treating the disease, we will be stopping its spread completely.”

Malaria parasites are extremely finicky about their hosts, Linhardt explained. Birds, rodents, humans, and primates all can be infected with malaria, but each species is infected by a different species of mosquito — and each of those mosquitoes is infected by a different malaria parasite. In other words, there needs to be a perfect match at the molecular basis for malaria to spread from one species to another, Linhardt said. Researchers have long understood this deadly partnership, but the molecular basis for the match had never been determined.

“The discovery marks a paradigm shift in stopping malaria,” Linhardt said. “Now, we can work to develop an environmentally safe, inexpensive way to block infection in mosquitoes and not have to worry about drug side effects in humans.”

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“Discovery Could Help Stop Malaria at Its Source — the Mosquito”
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