A breakthrough in monkey malaria research by two University of Otago scientists could help scientists diagnose and treat a relapsing form of human malaria.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that affects humans and other animals with more than 200 million cases annually, particularly in Asia, the Pacific and South America. Symptoms include fever, tiredness, vomiting and headaches and in severe cases it can cause seizures, coma or death.
Relapsing malaria is caused by the vivax malaria parasite, which is also the most widely distributed and difficult to treat cause of human malaria. Current efforts to develop new drugs and vaccines against vivax have been stymied by lack of a test tube (in vitro) cultured method.
However, in a world-first discovery, Dr Adelina Chua and Jessica Ong have cracked an in vitro method for culturing a monkey malaria parasite which is closely related to the relapsing vivax parasite.
“We can’t culture vivax malaria, but now we can culture its almost identical sister species which gives us an unprecedented opportunity to develop and rapidly test new antimalarials,” Ms Ong, a doctoral candidate from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, explains.
An interesting spinoff from this research is that the drugs developed against human relapsing malaria also have a good chance of working against bird malaria, which has been killing the endangered yellow-eyed penguin on the New Zealand mainland.