Can We Eradicate Malaria?

Can We Eradicate Malaria?


– [Narrator] Imagine
a creature so deadly that it kills half
the human population. This is no science
fiction monster. This is plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that
causes malaria. UCSF scientists believe
that we’re finally on the verge of
eradicating malaria. But why is it so difficult
to fight this disease? – [Announcer] These wide swamps
were long a breeding ground for the malaria-carrying
mosquito. – [Announcer] Now, malaria
is a serious health problem. It means exhaustion and sickness that may make him
an invalid for life. – [Announcer] It is
thought to be responsible for more illness
and death per year than any other
transmissible disease. – Malaria is one of the oldest and most deadly
diseases of human kind. Malaria has killed
astronomical numbers of us. – [Narrator] We don’t
hear as much about malaria as we do about diseases
like Ebola or measles, but malaria is
unquestionably more deadly. By some estimates,
malaria killed half of all the
humans who ever lived. – But in the most
recent year, 2017, there were half a
million malaria deaths, mainly in Africa and
mainly among children. But there were also 200
million malaria cases. – [Narrator] How is a
disease as old as humankind still killing half a
million people every year? Malaria quickly adapts to
every medication we develop. – First and foremost,
people should know malaria is not a virus. That actually is a very
common misconception. It’s a lot smarter than a
virus, a lot more complicated. So this is mostly media. 2% of the volume is blood, and then the parasites are
actually infecting the blood. – [Narrator] Garcia
and other researchers at the lab of Joe DeRisi at UCSF study the genome of the
parasite in hopes of developing more targeted malaria drugs,
which are desperately needed, as malaria develops drug
resistance very quickly. – Because the parasite
is really adaptable. One parasite will
produce a ton of progeny, and each of those progeny
can have different mutations. Most of the time those mutations
probably won’t do anything, but every once in a while
it’ll make a mutation that gives it
resistance to a drug. – [Narrator] The key
to its adaptability is in the complex life
cycle of the parasite. When mosquitoes
bite, they inject a bit of saliva to prevent
the blood from clotting. Plasmodium falciparum
is a protozoa that infects human hosts
through mosquito saliva. It swims through the
bloodstream into the liver, where it multiplies and
transforms into a new life stage that infects red blood cells. The parasites reproduce
in red blood cells over and over again. This transformative life
cycle makes the parasite very difficult to target
with drugs or vaccines. So, scientists are
targeting the mosquitoes with new technology
called a gene drive. Scientists at UC
Irvine bred mosquitoes that are immune to malaria and automatically pass on that
immunity to their offspring. They hope to release
these mosquitoes in Africa to spread the trait throughout
the mosquito population. At UC Berkeley, scientists are
modeling the best locations to release the
transgenic mosquitoes. – One of the factors
with malaria is, if we use anti-malarial drugs, likely only 80% of people are
gonna be taking those drugs. One of the benefits of
gene drive technology is that its effectiveness is independent of
human compliance. It’s one of the
most promising tools for the elimination of malaria. – [Narrator] From basic
science on the parasite to field research and
government policy, scientists at UCSF are engaged in every aspect of the
fight against malaria. This multi-angle
approach is working. Scientists at UCSF believe that the end of
malaria is in sight. – The Lancet Commission
on Malaria Eradication, which is based at UCSF,
has concluded that malaria can be eradicated by 2050,
and that’s very exciting work.

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