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November 21, 2007

Stopping malaria at the source

Some researchers at RPI have found what might turn out to be the Rosetta Stone for dealing with malaria.

The team found that humans and the mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite 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 team was led by Robert J. Linhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent Jr. ’59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering at Rensselaer.

“The discovery allows us to think differently about preventing the disease,” Linhardt said. “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

Rather than building bridges to nowhere, and wasting billions on pork laden water bills, maybe we should be throwing a few more bucks at these guys. They seem to have a clue, which is more than I can say for congress.

The anti-DDT crowd would get behind this too...then again maybe not. Greenies, being essentially closet Luddites, tend to eschew technology based solutions. This might smack just a bit too much of science for them.


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posted by Purp at 11:34 AM

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