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Gene therapy for malaria: Benefits far outweigh the risks

There’s a new treatment emerging for malaria, a kind of gene therapy that makes the malaria parasite more susceptible to anti-malaria drugs. It’s the work of a team at Yale University, whose lead researcher, Sidney Altman, is famous as a pioneer in molecular genetics. In 1989, he won the Nobel Prize for his discovery that RNA molecules can function as enzymes, understanding of which changed everything in genetics along with research on the origins of life. Now, Altman’s team at Yale believes it’s possible to alter genetic expression of plasmodium, the malarial parasite, which could amount to a sea change in the war against one of humanity’s worst infectious diseases. And so, there’s no way that anyone could be against it, right? Well maybe not. After...

Laser ‘tricorder’ can diagnose malaria through the skin

Source: It's a weapon that fights malaria – a laser scan can give an accurate diagnosis in seconds, without breaking the skin, just like the fictional tricorder in Star Trek. It works by pulsing energy into a vein in a person's wrist or earlobe. The laser's wavelength doesn't harm human tissue, but is absorbed by hemozoin – waste crystals that are produced by the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum when it feeds on blood. When the crystals absorb this energy, they warm the surrounding blood plasma, making it bubble. An oscilloscope placed on the skin alongside the laser senses these nanoscale bubbles when they start popping, detecting malaria infections in only 20 seconds. "It's the first true non-invasive diagnostic," says Dmitri Lapotko of Rice University in Houston, Texas, whose...

Researchers reveal potential mode of drug resistance in malaria parasites

Source: Scientists have uncovered a potential mode of parasite drug resistance in malaria infection, according to a report published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine. Malaria infection includes symptoms such as headaches, fever, fatigue, and vomiting and can be deadly. Transmitted via a mosquito bite, the parasite Plasmodium enters the bloodstream and infects red blood cells. The parasite then digests hemoglobin--the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood--and converts it into hemozoin, a protein indispensable for parasite survival. While some of the current anti-malarial drugs target this digestion pathway, resistance to these drugs has also been reported. To address this resistance, Leiden University Medical Centre researcher Shahid Khan and colleagues created a mouse parasite lacking critical "Pac-Man" enzymes required to chew up hemoglobin. These mutant parasites are able to survive...