World Malaria Day: A look at global research efforts to control the disease

World Malaria Day is commemorated every year on April 25 and recognises global efforts to control malaria. Globally, 3.3 billion people in 106 countries are at risk of malaria. In 2012, malaria caused an estimated 627,000 deaths, mostly among African children. Asia, Latin America, and to a lesser extent the Middle East and parts of Europe are also affected.

World Malaria Day
Representational picture

Positive figures
According to the latest report by the World Health Organisation (WHO)...
>> Malaria mortality rates have decreased by 47 percent worldwide and 54 percent in Africa alone since 2000
>> An estimated 4 million malaria-related deaths have been averted since 2001, approximately 97 percent of which have been children under five
>> Some 584,000 people died worldwide in 2013 from malaria, with 90 percent of these deaths occurring in Africa.
>> Approximately 198 million cases of malaria have been reported worldwide
>> Between 2001 and 2013, 4.3 million lives were saved by improved access to malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment
>> Of the above mentioned figures, 92 percent (3.9 million) were children under five in sub-Saharan Africa

Malaria claims 1200 children under five on a daily basis
Although child deaths from malaria dropped significantly since 2000, children under five years of age still represent 78 percent of global malaria deaths, or 456,000 per year. This means more than 1,200 children die every day from malaria, about 50 children every hour.

Malaria a major source of concern for pregnant women
Protecting pregnant women is crucial in the fight against malaria. Malaria in pregnancy contributes significantly to deaths of mothers and young children, estimated to amount each year to 10, 000 women and up to 200,000 infants.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 200 million cases of malaria and half a million malaria deaths were recorded in 2013.

Key malaria gene identified?
A team of researchers, including Indian-American scientist Souvik Bhattacharjee, has identified a gene responsible for making malaria parasites resistant to artemisinins, a key group of anti-malarial drug.

The gene is a dominant marker used to track the parasite's resistance and causes artemisinin resistance. Mutation in the gene increases the kinase or enzyme levels, which in turn increases the levels of a particular lipid, called PI3P. The higher the level of this lipid present in the parasite, the greater is the level of artemisinin resistance.

Artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) are the standard treatment worldwide for P. falciparum malaria. Though artemisinins have been used and investigated widely, it was not known how they worked or why clinical resistance has emerged.

Herbal tea to treat malaria in Africa
Researchers have formulated an anti-malarial tea out of an herbal remedy traditionally used to alleviate symptoms of the disease in Africa. Derived from the roots of a weed, the herbal remedy was combined with leaves and aerial portions from two other plants with antimalarial activity, and eventually licensed and sold as an antimalarial phytomedicine. The medication has other uses too such as in treating hepatitis, the study said.

Malaria not fatal for O blood group
It has long been known that people with blood type O are protected against severe malaria, while those with other types, such as A, often fall into a coma and die. A team of Scandinavian scientists has decoded the mechanism behind the protection that O blood type provides against the disease by using data from different kinds of experiment on cell cultures and animals, they show how the Plasmodium falciparum parasite secretes RIFIN, and how the protein makes its way to the surface of the blood cell, where it acts like glue.

Vitamin A may protect children from malaria
Vitamin A appeared to be more protective under certain circumstances, including when administered during the rainy season, as well as when given to older children and when more time had passed since supplementation. Researchers led by Maria-Graciela Hollm-Delgado, postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health were looking for possible links between malaria rates and several types of childhood vaccines as well as vitamin A supplementation. Only vitamin A was found to be protective against the disease.

A malaria vaccine made of algae!
Researchers led by Joseph Vinetz, professor of medicine at the University of California (UC), San Diego School of Medicine have developed a new candidate for malaria vaccine with the help of algae-produced malaria parasite protein. Paired with an immune-boosting cocktail suitable for use in humans, the algae-produced protein generated antibodies in mice that nearly eliminated mosquito infection by the malaria parasite. Besides its effectiveness as a protein producer, algae is an advantageoustool for developing vaccines because it is cheap, easy and environmentally friendly.

Malaria transmission connected to mosquitoes' sexual biology
The clue to why Anopheles mosquitoes are unique in their ability to transmit malaria to humans could be found in their evolution of sexual biology. Through analysis of 16 Anopheles genomes, researchers led by senior author Flaminia Catteruccia, associate professor at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health found that these mosquitoes' reproductive traits evolved along with their capacity to transmit the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria.

The researchers analysed nine globally dispersed Anopheles species, enabling reconstruction of the evolutionary history of their reproductive traits and capacity to transmit malaria. They found that two key male reproductive traits in Anopheles were acquired and evolved together over time: the mating plug, and the ability to synthesise a steroid hormone contained in that plug called 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E).

Chemical to trap malaria mosquitoes identified
In what could give a boost to malaria control efforts, researchers have discovered that pregnant malaria-transmitting mosquitoes are drawn to the odour released by a naturally occurring chemical cedrol. The team led by Ulrike Fillinger from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine followed the Anopheles gambiae mosquito's journey: after a blood meal from a human, the female mosquito heads off to lays her eggs in a pool of still water. They noticed that some pools would be full of larvae, while others remained empty thus determining that the mosquitoes were two times more likely to lay eggs in water with cedrol in the laboratory and a controlled field environment.

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