Saturday, April 11, 2015

Mosquitoes to prevent Malaria!

Yes, you read that right.

Spoiler Alert : This is not a Spiderman like super hero post on insect bite.

We have studied in school, learnt from TV/Newspapers that Malaria is caused by mosquitoes and so did I know until one of my colleagues pulled me around for a discussion about a Malaria research program. A bunch of researchers from Seattle BioMed are conducting a research in the US, where people who have never had Malaria infection will get bitten by Anopheles Stephensi Mosquitoes !!?

These are no ordinary mosquitoes. They are genetically attenuated (weakened) and are aimed to produce immunity in the people who suffer the bite. The science behind this, in simple, is the concept behind the Small pox or a Polio vaccine.  A disease causing microorganism is weakened and injected into human beings to generate immunity. If we remember the life cycle, when a mosquito bites, sporozoites enter the bloodstream, and reach the liver. They infect liver cells, where they multiply into merozoites, rupture the liver cells, and return to the bloodstream and infect the Red blood cells. Scientists genetically modify the sporozoites by deleting critical genes from their DNA, so that upon reaching the liver, they will trigger an immune response, generate immunity and die without causing the infection.

Image Source - Wikipedia
In animal studies, the vaccine has shown 100% efficacy in preventing the infection.  Research in human beings is underway before the vaccine could be approved for use publicly. Of course, it is highly impossible and impractical to immunize large number of people by subjecting them to mosquito bites. The scientists are working their way out to find a large scale manufacturing solution to mass produce the vaccine.

Though treatment is available, no vaccine is currently available to prevent Malaria although several vaccines are in late stage research. The lead in that group is the RTS,S vaccine developed by GSK in collaboration with The Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative which is currently under regulatory review.

A 2014 WHO report on Malaria indicates that globally,

-  3.3 billion people are at risk of being infected with malaria and developing disease (1.2 billion are at high risk [>1 in 1000 chance of getting malaria in a year]).

-  198 million cases of malaria occurred globally in 2013

-  led to 0.58 million deaths ( ~90% of all malaria deaths occur In the WHO African Region of which children aged under 5 years, account for 78% of all deaths)

Drug resistance is a serious concern and many countries have banned the use of oral Artemisinin based mono-therapy medicines to treat Malaria. Unfortunately, India still allows its use as mono-therapy. When did we, Indians, take mosquitoes seriously.

25 April of every year is the World Malaria Day and the WHO is calling for high-level commitment to the vision of a world free of malaria. A mosquito bite might lead to Malaria infection.  Try to keep the surroundings clean and prevent breeding of mosquitoes. Stay healthy!!

This article is written by Anand Prabu. Follow him on Linkedin here