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Malaria Box May Hold the Key to Defeating Malaria
In order to jump-start research on drug treatments, the Gates Foundation, the Medicines for Malaria Venture and GlaxoSmithKline put together a “Malaria Box” in 2012. The Malaria Box is a collection of 400 different compounds that are known to combat malaria in some way.

More specifically, 200 of the compounds are supposed to act like drugs and would directly be used in developing more effective oral drug treatment. The other 200 act more like biological probes that, if applied correctly in malaria research, could allow researchers to make important observations about the behavior of malaria.

Malaria is a widespread disease to which nearly half the world population is at risk. There were about 214 million cases in 2015, resulting in 438,000 deaths. Of this group, young children were particularly susceptible.

More effective drug treatments for malaria are imperative. Current treatments involve prescribing many drugs to be taken over a number of days. Sometimes patients are not able to receive the full treatment of drugs. Not only does this lead to continuing infection, but an incomplete treatment also contributes to the rise of multi-drug resistant malaria. The fact that malaria parasites continue to evolve poses an obstacle to developing drugs that will consistently work in the future.

The Malaria Box was given as part of a grant to 17 research projects in order to accelerate malaria research. After a few years, these research teams yielded positive results in the battle against malaria. Some researchers have tried to identify weak points to attack in the malaria parasite. For example, Dr. Jacquin Niles of MIT is trying to isolate genes particularly susceptible to attack by conducting tests on genetically modified parasites.

Dr. Jake Baum of the Imperial College of London is studying compounds that could block malaria transmission. He is researching whether molecular compounds that do not remain in the bloodstream for as long as other anti-malaria drugs can still effectively combat malaria.

After the success of the Malaria Box, other projects to distribute sets of compounds have been started. The ReFRAME library at the California Institute for Biomedical Research contains more than 10,000 compounds that are known to combat various diseases. Giving researchers access to these sets of compounds provides them with a strong and focused starting point from which to conduct their studies.

Edmond Kim

Photo: Flickr

China’s Bird Flu on the Rise
Health officials have reported 73 cases of people infected with H7N9 in China this January, making the total in the country 221.The bird flu initially infected domestic chickens and ducks back in 2013 but has now caused 57 human deaths. There have been few reported cases of the virus spreading from person to person and a WHO official suggests that it mainly circulates due to the present cold winter.

So far, the virus has not mutated but the WHO remains cautious due to increased travel by the millions for the Chinese New Year. The virus has already spread a large distance, further south and east to the Guangdong province. A WHO official suggests that the virus might be seasonal or possibly linked to the increased exposure to poultry as the nation prepares for the New Year.

Approximately 3.6 billion trips are estimated to occur during this holiday and this is dangerous due to the millions who will be purchasing or receiving poultry as gifts.

Humans acquire the virus when they are in close proximity to infected poultry, so anyone could potentially contract it at the street markets or just as easily at home during food preparations. Billions of Chinese will be traveling in trains or buses alongside their chickens for the two week holiday, which could possibly lead to more outbreaks.

Several health officials are worried about H7N9 because this strain does not make infected birds sick, so both farmers and customers are unaware of the danger. Other flu strains lead to the virus being released in feces while H7N9 is breathed out by the infected birds. The first H7N9 cases first reported in Shanghai last March but since then another 200 people became infected.

Transmission has occurred by family clusters versus person to person and scientists have discovered that it is due to genetic markers that allow easier infection to mammals.

People who become infected have severe flu symptoms such as high fever and respiratory problems. Many also have shortness of breath, muscular pain, and even pneumonia. Currently, there is no evidence that suggests that this virus may mutate and spread around the globe since reports don’t suggest simple human to human transmission.

Chinese authorities are investigating more cases because several reports suggest contaminated environments can also infect humans. Fear remains until the holiday is over as increased travel could lead to the virus mutating and quickly pass between people. The WHO remains vigilant for any mutations and does not advise travel.

Maybelline Martez

Sources: USA Today, BBC, ABC News
Photo: Once Upon a Time