Malaria is one of the main diseases that has claimed the lives of many Nigerians. Due to population, social and climate conditions, malaria in Nigeria has been difficult to manage and control. Furthermore, it has been challenging to arrive at a permanent solution. However, CRISPR Therapeutics is working to create a gene-based solution that will reduce the spread of malaria, saving the lives of many.
What is Malaria?
Malaria is a dangerous and potentially fatal disease. It is spread by a parasite that commonly infects a specific type of mosquito, primarily found in sub-Saharan Africa. When mosquitoes feed off humans, malaria is spread. Malaria is not contagious but one can obtain the disease if traveling to a malaria-riddled country. Although malaria is considered deadly, malaria-related deaths can usually be prevented. Because malaria results in widespread sickness and death, it has a severe impact on many national economies. Since many countries with malaria are usually lower-income nations, the disease creates a vicious cycle of sickness and impoverishment.
There are four types of parasites that have the potential to infect humans, Plasmodium falciparum is the kind that if not immediately treated, can lead to death. People who have low immunity to malaria, such as young children, pregnant women or travelers coming from areas with no malaria, are at the highest risk of a case of fatal malaria. In addition, impoverished people with inadequate access to proper healthcare are also at risk. Bearing in mind these factors, an estimated 90% of deaths due to malaria occur in Africa and most of these deaths are children under 5. More than one million people die from malaria each year and 300-600 million people annually suffer from it, making it a significant barrier to development.
Malaria in Nigeria
According to the 2019 World Malaria Report, Nigeria held the record for most cases of malaria in 2018 as 25% of global malaria cases were in Nigeria. Moreover, in 2018, the country held the highest number of global malaria deaths at 24%.
The entire country of Nigeria is at risk of malaria because roughly 76% of Nigerians are located in high transmission areas. Malaria is more contagious in the tropical south as the season can last year long. However, in the north, malaria season lasts at most three months. Studies show that children living in rural areas and low socioeconomic classes are most prone to malaria.
The global community has funded Nigeria’s government well to fight its malaria crisis. For example, the government has received funding for malaria control from the Global Fund. It has negotiated additional loans from the World Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank. Nigeria also receives assistance from the USAID President’s Malaria Initiative.
CRISPR and Gene Editing
CRISPR Therapeutics strives to create therapies treating malaria, cancer, diabetes and other serious diseases through CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing. CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing is the process by which DNA is edited by precisely cutting DNA and allowing natural DNA repair processes to take command. Corrected genes or newly introduced genes, can help bring immunity to malaria. CRISPR also has the potential to alleviate global poverty and improve conditions in sub-Saharan Africa.
CRISPR and Malaria
To solve the malaria crisis, scientists are considering CRISPR technology to explore the possibility of genetic modification within mosquitoes. This could include eradicating the malaria gene within mosquitoes or simply shrinking their population. Using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, the goal is to control the spread of malaria. Why target the mosquitoes? With international travel and climate change, the disease has spread internationally. Scientists have concluded that the best route to eradicate malaria is to attack the mosquito instead of the parasite.
CRISPR technology applications for malaria could potentially change malaria control strategies. Rather than simply trying to treat the people affected by malaria, with CRISPR technology, the disease could be completely eradicated. Africa will benefit the most from this potential application. CRISPR technology could potentially eradicate malaria, thus reducing the impact on people’s health and on the economy as well. Overall, CRISPR technology can break the cycle of poverty in Africa.
– Ella Kaplun